Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Saturday June 24, 2022
U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, leaving abortion rights up to states
The U.S. Supreme Court has overturned the Roe v. Wade opinion that has secured constitutional protections for abortion in the country for nearly 50 years.
The milestone ruling, a draft of which was leaked last month, has the potential to claw back abortion access across the U.S. by allowing states to restrict or outright ban the procedure.
The court, in a 6-3 ruling powered by its conservative majority, upheld a Republican-backed Mississippi law that bans abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy.
The vote was 5-4 to overturn Roe v. Wade, with conservative Chief Justice John Roberts writing separately to say he would have upheld the Mississippi law without taking the additional step of erasing the Roe precedent altogether.
That original 1973 Roe v. Wade decision ruling found that a woman’s decision to terminate a pregnancy was protected by the rights that flow from the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which protects a citizen’s right to “life, liberty and property.”
But Associate Justice Samuel Alito disagreed with that interpretation in Friday’s majority opinion on the case challenging the Mississippi law, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.
“The constitution makes no reference to abortion, and no such right is implicitly protected by any constitutional provision,” Alito wrote in the opinion, which was very similar to the leaked draft.
“It is time to heed the constitution and return the issue of abortion to the people’s elected representatives.”
The right to abortion, Alito wrote, is “critically different from any other right that this court has held to fall within the Fourteenth Amendment’s protection of ‘liberty.'”
It’s also different, he said, than the rights recognized in the court’s past decisions on matters such as intimate sexual relations, contraception and marriage, because it “destroys” what Roe and a subsequent abortion case that the court also overruled Friday, Planned Parenthood vs. Casey, called “fetal life” and the Mississippi law describes as an “unborn human being.”
“Roe was egregiously wrong from the start,” Alito said. “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.”
In Roe v. Wade, the court ruled that states could only interfere with a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy after a fetus reached the “viability” stage, around 24 to 28 weeks of pregnancy, when the fetus could be considered viable outside the womb.
After Friday’s decision, individual state legislatures will now decide how to regulate the medical procedure and to what extent they want to allow, restrict or ban it outright.
Twenty-six states asked the Supreme Court to overrule the Roe and Casey decisions and allow them to “regulate or prohibit pre-viability abortions,” Alito wrote in his opinion.
Many of those, largely in the South and Midwest, have already signalled that they will likely move quickly to ban abortion or restrict access to it to some degree.
At least 13 states have so-called trigger laws that ban or severely limit abortion and moved swiftly to enact them as soon as Roe v. Wade was overturned. Some abortion clinics in those states stopped performing abortions immediately in the wake of the ruling as they assessed their new reality.
The Supreme Court decision also overrules the 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey decision, which upheld the protection of a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy without undue burdens such as waiting periods and consent and notification requirements but allowed states to add some limitations, including in the first trimester.
Liberal justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan issued a joint dissent.
“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,” they wrote. (CBC)