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Women in Half of US States Lose Legal Right to Abortion

The court argued that abortion restrictions are not "sex-based" and therefore are not subject to "Equal Protection" scrutiny

Women in Half of US States Lose Legal Right to Abortion
Photo by Lorie Shaull (2019 protest in St Paul, Minnesota)

The Supreme Court of the United States announced Friday morning their decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, reversing 50 years of women's rights. While abortion access has already been severely restricted in many states thanks to the continued weakening of Roe via TRAP laws and increasingly severe time frame limitations, the ruling officially eliminates any understanding of a Constitutional Right to abortion.

The ruling comes after an unprecedented leak of the decision last month warned the country the change was coming. The decision was voted 6-3 among party lines, with the court's conservative justices crafting the majority opinion.

The ruling was made in the case of Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, a case hinging on the Constitutionality of a 2018 Mississippi state law banning most abortions after 15 weeks. Lower courts initially prevented enforcement of the law under the precedent of Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which generally prevents laws banning abortion viability. Casey has also been overturned by the Dobbs decision.

The decision states: "The Constitution does not confer a right to abortion; Roe and Casey are overruled; and the authority to regulate abortion is returned to the people and their elected representatives."

In the decision, written by Justice Alito, the court argued that restrictions placed on abortion are not "sex-based" and that therefore they are not subject to scrutiny under the Fourteenth Amendment's "Equal Protection" clause. The court also found that restrictions on abortion do not violate Constitutional protections of liberty, privacy, and due process.

In their dissent, Justices Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kegan described the decision as "the curtailment of women’s rights, and of their status as free and equal citizens."

According to the Guttmacher Institute, 26 states have pre-Roe "zombie laws" or post-Roe "trigger laws" that will ban almost all abortions effective immediately. Their interactive map provides information about the status of abortion access in each state. Only eleven states are classified as having a "protective" status for abortion.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke out quickly on the impact of the ruling. "Today’s Supreme Court opinion will live in infamy as a step backward for women's rights and human rights," she Tweeted.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi addressed the decision at a press conference Friday morning.

"It’s just stunning, and again as a woman, as a mother, as a grandmother, to see young girls now have fewer rights than their moms or even their grandmothers, is something very sad for our country," she said.

The practical effect of this ruling is that women in most states will have to travel across state lines, sometimes across multiple states, to access a legal abortion. Such travel is often inaccessible for lower-income women, especially those who are already mothers (59% of women seeking abortions).

The dissenting Justices outlined the future worst-case scenario that could result from Friday's ruling, including restrictions on out-of-state travel for abortions and a national abortion ban:

"In any event, interstate restrictions will also soon be in the offing. After this decision, some States may block women from traveling out of State to obtain abortions, or even from receiving abortion medications from out of State. Some may criminalize efforts, including the provision of information or funding, to help women gain access to other States’ abortion services. Most threatening of all, no language in today’s decision stops the Federal Government from prohibiting abortions nationwide, once again from the moment of conception and without exceptions for rape or incest."

Senator Elizabeth Warren called for the public to elect officials who would codify abortion rights in response to the ruling.

"We are going to fight back. We've got tools," the Senator told CNN on Friday, "We're going to use them and in November, we're going to make sure that we elect enough people who believe in that democracy that we can pass Roe v. Wade and make it the law of the land again — only this time we'll do it by statute and enforce it."

Protests immediately erupted in the capital following the announcement of the decision, and further protests are already planned in state capitols like Austin.

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