The Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the landmark ruling that legalized abortion across the US.
The court's conservative justices delivered the ruling.
The 5-4 ruling gives states the authority to decide their own abortion laws.
The Supreme Court on Friday overturned Roe v. Wade, a consequential decision that guts the nearly 50-year-old landmark ruling that legalized abortion nationwide.
The decision to overrule Roe was 5-4 in a majority opinion delivered by Justice Samuel Alito, joined by his conservative colleagues, Justices Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett.
"We hold that Roe and Casey must be overruled," Alito wrote in the opinion, referring to a subsequent 1992 abortion decision that upheld Roe and declared that states cannot impose an "undue burden" on abortions. "The Constitution makes no reference to abortion, and no such right is implicitly protected by any constitutional provision."
"Roe was egregiously wrong from the start," he continued. "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 monumental ruling allows states to make their own abortion laws after decades of constitutionally protected abortion rights at the federal level.
At the heart of the case is a Mississippi law that sought to ban abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy, which contradicts the standard set in Roe, allowing abortions until about 24 weeks of pregnancy, otherwise known as viability, the point at which a fetus can survive outside the womb.
Chief Justice John Roberts ruled 6-3 with the majority to uphold the Mississippi law, but he disputed the conservative majority's complete overruling of Roe. Instead, he supported a more middle-ground approach: keep Mississippi's statute and do nothing else. That outcome would have weakened abortion rights without completely tossing them out.
"The Court's decision to overrule Roe and Casey is a serious jolt to the legal system—regardless of how you view those cases," Roberts wrote in a concurring opinion. "A narrower decision rejecting the misguided viability line would be markedly less unsettling, and nothing more is needed to decide this case."
The court's three liberal justices — Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan — dissented, rejecting the decision and warning of the dire consequences that women will face as a result.
"Withdrawing a woman's right to choose whether to continue a pregnancy does not mean that no choice is being made. It means that a majority of today's Court has wrenched this choice from women and given it to the States," they wrote.
"For millions of women, Roe and Casey have been critical in giving them control of their bodies and their lives. Closing our eyes to the suffering today's decision will impose will not make that suffering disappear," the opinion went on to say.
Alito was widely expected to deliver the court's decision after Politico last month published a leaked draft opinion he wrote for the case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization. Much of Alito's scorching rebuke of Roe in the draft made it into the final opinion.
Thomas, widely considered the most conservative member on the bench, called for the court to examine other rulings that are similarly protected under privacy rights, including contraception access and same-sex marriage.
"For that reason, in future cases, we should reconsider all of this Court's substantive due process precedents, including Griswold, Lawrence, and Obergefell," Thomas wrote in a concurring opinion.
The topic of abortion has long sparked immense political division within the country, and the court's decision is expected to fan the flames. It delivers a monumental victory to the anti-abortion movement, which has worked to undo abortion rights ever since Roe was decided. At the same time, nightmare has become reality for abortion-rights advocates, who have fought to protect women's access to reproductive healthcare.
President Joe Biden and Democratic leaders across the nation swiftly condemned the Supreme Court's ruling on Friday, while Republicans celebrated it. Former President Donald Trump also took a victory lap, crediting himself for appointing three conservative justices — Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, and Barrett — to the court. An increased police presence has gathered in Washington, DC, in response to protests outside the Supreme Court.
The court's decision will have far-reaching consequences as it grants states the authority to decide their own abortion laws. At least 23 states are expected to move to enact restrictions on abortion, and 13 states with so-called trigger laws will ban all or nearly all abortions, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a pro-abortion-rights organization that tracks reproductive-healthcare data.
Economists expect that uneven access to abortion will severely set back women back. Studies have found that low-income women are more likely to be forced to carry unwanted pregnancies to term than their wealthier counterparts because they cannot afford to travel to a state where the procedure is legal.
That's been the case in Texas after the state in September enacted one of the strictest abortion laws in the country, banning the procedure after six weeks of pregnancy, a time when many women do not yet know they are pregnant. Women in Texas who have sought the procedure and can afford to travel have done so, though it's uncertain whether that scenario will continue in a post-Roe landscape with abortion access significantly curtailed across the country.
These new abortion restrictions are sure to set off a wave of legal challenges. However, legal experts say those are likely to fail, given the Supreme Court has handed off abortion decision-making to the states.
The decision, overturning decades-old precedent, throws the Supreme Court's public standing into jeopardy amid an era of record-low approval ratings and intense political polarization, according to court watchers.
"I don't think they're showing a lot of respect for the stability of the institution and the stability of the law," Sherry Colb, a professor at Cornell Law School, told Insider before the decision was released.
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