STORY: To some, it is an unthinkable injustice… to others, an overdue moral victory.
In a historic decision, the United States Supreme Court has overturned Roe versus Wade, the landmark 1973 ruling that legalized abortion nationwide.
The rare upending of the court’s own legal precedent came as the result of a Republican-backed case out of Mississippi that not only sought to severely restrict abortions in the state but targeted the legality of Roe v. Wade as well.
It also came after an unprecedented leak in early May of an initial draft majority opinion published by Politico, showing that the court was ready to declare that there was no constitutional right to the procedure.
The leak sparked massive abortion-rights protests nationwide… one man was even charged with a plot to murder conservative Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
Despite the court’s strong conservative tilt, many pro-choice supporters had clung to the hope that Roe would remain intact – especially as it had survived several challenges over the years.
They even remained hopeful as they watched a parade of the most recently-appointed conservative justices, all nominated by Republican President Donald Trump – who vowed to have Roe v. Wade overturned – appear to view Roe as settled law when grilled by Democrats at their confirmation hearings…
In 2017, with Neil Gorsuch:
"It is a precedent of the United States Supreme Court. It was reaffirmed in Casey in 1992 and in several other cases."
Then, a year later, Brett Kavanaugh:
"One of the important things to keep in mind about Roe v Wade is that it has been reaffirmed many times over the past 45 years. [FLASH] Most importantly reaffirmed in Planned Parenthood vs. Casey in 1992."
Finally, in 2020, Amy Coney Barrett:
"I don't have any agenda. I have no agenda to try to overrule Casey. I have an agenda to stick to the rule of law and decide cases as they come."
Prior to Roe v. Wade, women carrying unwanted pregnancies often took matters into their own hands, says Karissa Haugeberg, assistant professor of history at Tulane University.
"So, that's where women tried to like fall down stairs, or punch their stomachs, or you know, these sorts of methods."
1973’s Roe v. Wade ruling answered the call of many women's rights activists – the decision recognizing that the right to personal privacy under the U.S. Constitution protects a woman's ability to terminate her pregnancy.
It also kicked off a nearly fifty-year fight over abortion rights, with fiery protests playing out year after year in the nation's capital. Some resorted to violence – murdering abortion providers and bombing or setting fire to clinics.
But the justices in 1973 did not anticipate that their ruling would become such a lightning rod in U.S. politics, according to Daniel Williams, a history professor at the University of West Georgia.
"During the late 1960's, early 1970's, before Roe v. Wade, there was no partisan difference on abortion. In fact, the anti-abortion movement, the pro-life movement, was populated mainly by Democrats, some of the most liberal Democrats in the country, including Ted Kennedy, at that point in his political career….”
But in the aftermath of Roe, Republicans saw an opportunity to harness passions over the issue to expand their voter base - especially among Roman Catholics and evangelical Christians, who were not politically active - according to Jennifer Holland, an assistant professor of U.S. history at the University of Oklahoma.
"They realize that these are very useful voters. [FLASH] And that you could say the right things in an election cycle, and you could get this very fervent - not majority - but an important and fervent minority to come out and vote for you."
And Republicans weren't the only ones digging in their heels.
[Haugeberg]: "It becomes a litmus test, like, in order to survive a primary challenge, in order to get a nomination, in order to get the party to back you, for both parties, one has to - by the mid-1990's - have a pretty firm commitment to either being anti-abortion or pro-choice."
Now that Roe has been overturned, some 26 states are expected to quickly move to curtail abortion access, according to the Guttmacher Institute, an abortion rights research group... leaving millions of women in the U.S. who want to end a pregnancy to face the choice of having a potentially dangerous illegal abortion, traveling to another state where the procedure remains legal and available, or buying abortion pills online.
The procedure will remain legal in liberal-leaning states, more than a dozen of which have laws protecting abortion rights.