The Supreme Court on Friday revoked the constitutional right to an abortion that has been in place for half a century — overturning Roe v. Wade on a 5-4 vote, clearing the way for dozens of states to swiftly ban the procedure and throwing the country into uncharted political, legal, social and medical territory.
The bombshell decision is set to upend elections across the country as governors, attorneys general and other state and local leaders gain new powers to determine when abortion will be permitted, if at all, and who should be prosecuted and potentially incarcerated when bans take effect.
The high court’s vote to overturn nearly five decades of court rulings upholding a right to end a pregnancy won the support of five of the court’s six conservative justices, while Chief Justice John Roberts and the court’s three liberal justices opposed overruling Roe.
The majority opinion, authored by Justice Samuel Alito, hewed closely to the draft version obtained exclusively by POLITICO and published in early May.
In its official opinion, the court’s conservative majority went beyond simply resolving the case before them — Mississippi’s near-ban on abortion at 15 weeks of pregnancy — and instead overturned both Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, long-standing precedents that barred states from banning abortion before the point of fetal viability.
“We hold that Roe and Casey must be overruled. The Constitution makes no reference to abortion, and no such right is implicitly protected by any constitutional provision, “ Alito wrote. “This Court cannot bring about the permanent resolution of a rancorous national controversy simply by dictating a settlement and telling the people to move on.”
As the draft previewed, Alito argued that history demonstrates no tradition in the United States of a right to abortion, and the absence of such protections undermines the Supreme Court’s conclusion 49 years ago that abortion rights were implicit in a constitutional right to privacy.
However, the court’s five-justice majority also cautioned that their momentous decision to retreat from Roe does not mean that other court decisions grounded in privacy rights are in jeopardy.
“Nothing in this opinion should be understood to cast doubt on precedents that do not concern abortion,” Alito wrote.
The court’s liberal wing — Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan — joined together in a single fiery dissent warning that the action by the court’s majority was deeply unwise and disruptive.
“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,” the Democratic-appointed justices wrote. “Women have relied on Roe and Caseyin this way for 50 years. Many have never known anything else. When Roe and Caseydisappear, the loss of power, control, and dignity will be immense.”
The court’s liberals also predicted that the Republican-appointed majority’s willingness to overrule a nearly half-century-old precedent bodes ill for other decisions regularly relied upon by Americans and for respect for the legal system.