Supreme Court votes to overturn Roe v. Wade

The Supreme Court on Friday followed through on the draft opinion that was leaked to the media last month by striking down Roe v. Wade, the nearly 50-year-old ruling that established the constitutional right to abortion.


What You Need To Know

  • The Supreme Court on Friday followed through on the draft opinion that was leaked to the media last month by striking down Roe v. Wade, the nearly 50-year-old ruling that established the constitutional right to abortion
  • The justices voted 5-4 to uphold a Mississippi law banning nearly all abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy
  • In the majority ruling, Justice Samuel Alito wrote, “Roe was egregiously wrong from the start
  • Friday’s ruling allows states to decide their own abortion laws; bout half the states are expected to impose abortion bans

The justices voted 5-4 to uphold a Mississippi law banning nearly all abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. 

In the majority ruling, Justice Samuel Alito wrote: “Roe was egregiously wrong from the start. Its reasoning was exceptionally weak, and the decision has had damaging consequences. And far from bringing about a national settlement of the abortion issue, Roe and Casey have enflamed debate and deepened division.

“The Constitution does not prohibit the citizens of each State from regulating or prohibiting abortion. Roe and Casey arrogated that authority,” the ruling reads. “The Court overrules those decisions and returns that authority to the people and their elected representatives.

Planned Parenthood v. Casey was a 1992 Supreme Court ruling that upheld Roe v. Wade.

Alito was joined by Justices Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett, the latter three of whom were appointed by former President Donald Trump.

Chief Justice John Roberts, in a concurring opinion, said that he would have upheld Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban, but would have stopped short of overturning Roe and Casey, suggesting that such an action might construe justicial activism.

Friday’s ruling allows states to decide their own abortion laws. About half the states are expected to impose abortion bans, with 13 having so-called “trigger laws” in place for near bans to go into effect in the event Roe was overturned.

The decision was widely expected since Politico obtained and published on May 3 a majority draft opinion, written in February, that indicated the court was poised to reverse Roe. 

The leaked opinion sparked outrage and protests from liberals, including in front of justices’ homes. Meanwhile, conservatives voiced the loudest frustration about the leak itself.

The court quickly confirmed the leaked document was authentic, but cautioned that a decision on the Mississippi abortion case had not been finalized at the time. Deliberations in controversial cases have been known to be fluid.

Chief Justice John Roberts ordered an investigation into the leak, calling it a “betrayal of the confidences of the Court” that “was intended to undermine the integrity of our operations.”

The investigation is ongoing.

In the dissenting opinion, Justice Stephen Breyer wrote: “Whatever the exact scope of the coming laws, one result of today’s decision is certain: the curtailment of women’s rights, and of their status as free and equal citizens.

“With sorrow—for this Court, but more, for the many millions of American women who have today lost a fundamental constitutional protection—we dissent,” the minority opinion concludes.

In 1973, the Supreme Court ruled 7-2 that a Texas law preventing a woman, Norma McCorvey — who filed the lawsuit under the legal pseudonym “Jane Roe” — from having an abortion was unconstitutional. The court ruled that the due process clause in the 14th Amendment allowed individuals the right to privacy when making choices about abortion. 

The Roe decision had withstood a number of legal challenges over the past half-century, most notably in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, in which the Supreme Court reaffirmed the right to have an abortion but allowed laws restricting the procedures as long as they were not intended to impose an “undue burden.”

Some state legislatures have sought to test the limits of Roe over the years, becoming more aggressive since the Supreme Court majority swung to justices appointed by Republican presidents in 2017.

Since the draft opinion leaked last month, congressional Democrats have scrambled to try to codify abortion rights, but their efforts have stalled in the 50-50 Senate. They have seized on the threat to abortion rights as they campaign to save their majority in Congress in the upcoming midterms.

Meanwhile last month, the Oklahoma Legislature passed a bill, which has been signed by Gov. Kevin Stitt, that bans nearly all abortions starting at fertilization.

This is a developing story. Check back later for updates.

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