Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, ending constitutional protections for abortion

The Supreme Court ruled Friday morning to remove constitutional protections for abortion in a much-anticipated opinion overruling landmark abortion cases Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey.

“The Constitution does not confer a right to abortion; Roe and Casey must be overruled, and the authority to regulate abortion must be returned to the people and their elected representatives,” Justice Samuel Alito wrote in the majority opinion for Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.

The court ruled 6-3 to uphold a Mississippi abortion ban being challenged in the case and 5-4 to overturn Roe. 

The court’s 79-page ruling upholds Mississippi’s Gestational Age Act, which restricts abortions performed 15 weeks after conception. The legislation has been imitated across several other states—particularly in the weeks following a leak of the draft version of today’s opinion.

Alito's opinion was joined by conservative justices Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett. Concurring opinions were filed by Justices Thomas and Kavanaugh, with the former filing another opinion concurring in the judgment.

The majority’s argument centered on there being no reference to abortion in the Constitution. In particular, the Fourteenth Amendment ratified in 1868 “clearly” does not protect the right to abortion, as such procedures were criminal in most states and unprotected by state and federal law until the latter part of the 20th century.

The 49-year-old Roe v. Wade—and the 30-year-old Planned Parenthood v. Casey that relied on it—had protected the right to abortion as an extension of the right to privacy granted by a handful of constitutional amendments. Alito wrote explicitly that the top court’s decisions at the time were mistakes.

"Roe was egregiously wrong from the start,” he wrote in the opinion. “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."

Liberal justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, writing in a jointly authored dissent, said that the majority’s arguments around original intent discard the delicate balance struck by earlier courts on individual rights, the potential life of a fetus and the wide array of opinions held by Americans on the controversial subject.

The minority judges wrote that the opinion strips a woman’s rights “from the very moment of fertilization” and opens the door for states to impose “draconian restrictions” on women and abortion providers alike.

“Today’s decision, the majority says, permits ‘each State’ to address abortion as it pleases,” the liberal judges wrote “That is cold comfort, of course, for the poor woman who cannot get the money to fly to a distant State for a procedure. Above all others, women lacking financial resources will suffer from today’s decision.”

The dissenting justices also raised concerns that the current court could move on to overturn “other settled freedoms involving bodily integrity, familial relationships and procreation,” and specifically cited cases involving contraception and same-sex marriage rights.

Thirteen states including Mississippi have “trigger laws” in place that banned abortion upon the overturning of Roe v. Wade. Still more began moving abortion restrictions through their legislative processes following the May leak of the draft opinion. More than half of all states are expected to pursue such laws now that the draft decision is official.

May’s leak triggered nationwide protests and widespread pushback from healthcare professionals and organizations over concerns abortion restrictions would endanger women living in numerous states.

Dobbs v. Jackson reactions roll in

Joe Biden, president of the United States of America

“With Roe gone, let’s be very clear: The health and life of women in this nation are now at risk.”

“…The court has done what it’s never done before: expressly take away a constitutional right that is so fundamental to so many Americans and had already been recognized. The court’s decision to do so will have real and immediate consequences. State laws banning abortion are automatically taking effect today, jeopardizing the health of millions of women, some without exceptions.

“…The court laid out state laws criminalizing abortion that go back to the 1800s as rationale—the court literally taking America back 150 years. This is a sad day for the country in my view, but it doesn’t mean the fight’s over. Let me be very clear and unambiguous: the only way we can secure a woman’s right to choose, the balance that existed, is for Congress to restore the protections of Roe v. Wade as federal law. No executive action from the president can do that.”

Jack Resneck, Jr., M.D., president of the American Medical Association

“The American Medical Association is deeply disturbed by the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn nearly a half century of precedent protecting patients’ right to critical reproductive health care—representing an egregious allowance of government intrusion into the medical examination room, a direct attack on the practice of medicine and the patient-physician relationship, and a brazen violation of patients’ rights to evidence-based reproductive health services. 

"...In alignment with our long-held position that the early termination of a pregnancy is a medical matter between the patient and physician, subject only to the physician’s clinical judgment, the patient’s informed consent and access to appropriate facilities, the AMA condemns the high court’s interpretation in this case."

Merrick Garland, U.S. Attorney General

“The Justice Department strongly disagrees with the Court’s decision. ... We stand ready to work with other arms of the federal government that seek to use their lawful authorities to protect and preserve access to reproductive care. In particular, the FDA has approved the use of the medication Mifepristone. States may not ban Mifepristone based on disagreement with the FDA’s expert judgment about its safety and efficacy. 

“Furthermore, federal agencies may continue to provide reproductive health services to the extent authorized by federal law. And federal employees who carry out their duties by providing such services must be allowed to do so free from the threat of liability. ... The Justice Department will use every tool at our disposal to protect reproductive freedom."

Xavier Becerra, secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

"We stand unwavering in our commitment to ensure every American has access to health care and the ability to make decisions about health care—including the right to safe and legal abortion, such as medication abortion that has been approved by the FDA for over 20 years. I have directed every part of my department to do any and everything we can here. As I have said before, we will double down and use every lever we have to protect access to abortion care."

Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky), Senate minority leader

“The Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in Dobbs is courageous and correct. This is an historic victory for the Constitution and for the most vulnerable in our society.

“… The Court has corrected a terrible legal and moral error, like when Brown v. Board overruled Plessy v. Ferguson. The Justices applied the Constitution. They carefully weighed the complex factors regarding precedent. The Court overturned mistaken rulings that even liberals have long admitted were incoherent, restoring the separation of powers. I commend the Court for its impartiality in the face of attempted intimidation.”

Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.), speaker of the House of Representatives

“With Roe now out of their way, radical Republicans are charging ahead with their crusade to criminalize health freedom.  In the Congress, Republicans are plotting a nationwide abortion ban.  In the states, Republicans want to arrest doctors for offering reproductive care and women for terminating a pregnancy.  GOP extremists are even threatening to criminalize contraception, as well as in-vitro fertilization and post-miscarriage care.

“A woman’s fundamental health decisions are her own to make, in consultation with her doctor and her loved ones – not to be dictated by far-right politicians.  While Republicans seek to punish and control women, Democrats will keep fighting ferociously to enshrine Roe v. Wade into law.”

Iffath Hoskins, M.D., president of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists

"It is a dark day in healthcare. It is a dark day indeed for the tens of millions of patients who have suddenly and unfairly lost access to safe, legal and evidence-based abortion care," said Dr. Iffath Abbasi Hoskins, president of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

"With today's decision, the Supreme Court has forced us the clinicians to betray the sacred covenant that we made to our patients. This is unethical. It is dangerous, and it is plain wrong.

"The restrictions put forth are not based on science nor medicine; they allow unrelated third parties to make decisions that rightfully and ethically should be made only by individuals and their physicians.  ACOG condemns this devastating decision, which will allow state governments to prevent women from living with autonomy over their bodies and their decisions."  

National Nurses United

“The Supreme Court’s overturning of the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling today in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization is a shameful and dangerous assault on women, other child-bearing people, and families at a sweeping scale. This decision is part of a coordinated right-wing effort to undo hard-won human and civil rights in the United States, and to control working people by removing their power and bodily autonomy. This decision goes against the beliefs and values of the vast majority of people in the United States and is an attack on democracy itself. 

“… as health care providers, we know from experience that abortions will not stop. They will continue underground because they are a vital medical necessity, a basic health care service. Abortions will simply become more expensive, harder to access, and in many cases unsafe. Those with money and resources will continue to be able to get safe abortions, and those without will not. Those who cannot find safe, clinical spaces to get abortion services will resort to DIY methods. As one of our nurse practitioners said, ‘Many people will unnecessarily die.’”

Bruce Siegel, M.D., president and CEO of America’s Essential Hospitals

“This decision could inspire policies that result in an uneven distribution of providers across states, greater disparities in maternal health, and conflicts between state and federal laws. For example, providers might face concerns about how to reconcile state restrictions with their obligations under federal law to stabilize and treat emergency department patients. A chilling effect on physician training and shortages of obstetrician-gynecologists in some states also could follow this ruling.

“We urge policymakers to carefully consider their actions in the wake of this ruling and reject policies that would restrict health care access, undercut medical decision-making, and put patient care and health at risk.”

Lawrence Gostin, faculty director of the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University

“The Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade strips a right that has been in place for nearly half a century, marking the single greatest reversal of women’s rights in American history. This Court's blatant disregard for settled precedent, along with the previously leaked draft opinion, undermines the Court’s legitimacy and America’s trust in the federal judiciary.

“…The Supreme Court has made the United States an outlier among peer countries that safeguard the right to abortion. Other constitutional rights, such as to contraception, marriage equality, and LGBTQ+ rights, could be in jeopardy, too.”

Alexis McGill Johnson, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood

"The United States Supreme Court just told us we are not free. By overturning Roe v. Wade, they have stolen our constitutional right. Our right to self-determination, our right to control our own bodies, our right to freedom, our right to abortion. However they justify it, this is about power and control. Power and control that was once ours will now belong to state politicians.

"Look, abortion is still legal in many states and Planned Parenthood will do whatever we can to get you the care you need. And we will not stop fighting. Our movement will fight for rights stronger than Roe. We will secure abortion access for all, free from bans and restrictions, free from shame and stigma. No court and state will make us compromise our bodies, our dignity or our freedom."

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Ca.), chair of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (via Twitter)

“The Court's decision to overturn Roe endangers women everywhere, by taking away their right to make their own health care choices. This court isn't conservative—it's partisan, with a socially backward agenda. They can't be trusted to protect our rights, so the Congress must.”

David Harvey, executive director of the National Coalition of STD Directors

“At a time when we should be preserving and expanding health care access across America, this decision does just the opposite. Moreover, it foments stigma and mistrust while discouraging critical conversations between patient and provider. Low-income communities, communities of color and other vulnerable populations will feel these effects the fastest and the deepest as healthcare inequities are exacerbated and access diminishes nearly instantaneously in states throughout the country.”

Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.C.), chairwoman of the Committee on Oversight and Reform.

“I want to be very clear—Republicans’ overturning of Roe is not about protecting public health or safety, it is about taking away our right to bodily autonomy.  This disgraceful decision will eliminate access to abortion care for millions of people in the United States and will disproportionately harm communities that are already marginalized and more likely to experience health disparities, including people of color and people with less income.”