On June 24, the Supreme Court of the United States officially overturned the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision to protect abortion rights under the Constitution in a 6-3 majority. The ruling comes almost two months after Politico published a leaked draft of the Supreme Court majority opinion.
“Roe was egregiously wrong from the start,” the majority opinion reads, written by Justice Samuel Alito. “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.” Casey refers to the 1992 Supreme Court case Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which reaffirmed the Roe decision and established the “undue burden” standard for abortion restrictions.
The three dissenting justices — Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan — wrote a dissenting opinion that read, “With sorrow — for this Court, but more, for the many millions of American women who have today lost a fundamental constitutional protection — we dissent.”
Planned Parenthood responded to the news online, tweeting, “We know you may be feeling a lot of things right now — hurt, anger, confusion. Whatever you feel is OK. We’re here with you — and we’ll never stop fighting for you.” The ACLU responded similarly, tweeting, “No matter what the courts say, no one should be forced to carry a pregnancy against their will. We need a world where abortion is legal, available and accessible to ALL. It’s never been our reality, but it can be. Abortion is our right. We’ll never stop fighting for it.”
Here’s what you need to know about what the majority opinion means, how it could impact you, and what you can do.
abortion laws will be decided individually by state.
According to the New York Times, the end of Roe v. Wade does not mean a straightforward, nationwide ban on abortion. Instead, it will be up to individual states whether or not to allow, restrict, or ban abortion.
According to CNBC, about half the states in the country will effectively ban abortion now that they have been given the constitutional freedom to do so. If you’re wondering whether that includes your state, Politico has an interactive map that shows the changing situation for each state. At the time of publication, South Dakota, Oklahoma, Texas, Louisiana, and Kentucky have already banned abortion or made it illegal, with other states soon to follow suit.
Such a ban can happen so quickly after the Supreme Court decision due to “trigger laws” in place. According to CNN, trigger laws are designed to go into effect nearly immediately after Roe is overturned. The states with trigger laws include Arkansas, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and Wyoming, whose trigger bill was only signed into law in April.
In May when the draft opinion was leaked, President Joe Biden released a statement to call for a protection of abortion by elected officials. He said, “I believe that a woman’s right to choose is fundamental, Roe has been the law of the land for almost fifty years, and basic fairness and the stability of our law demand that it not be overturned.” President Biden also spoke about getting “more pro-choice Senators and a pro-choice majority in the House” during midterm elections this fall — indeed, many people are already anticipating the role of the Supreme Court and the decision in this year’s midterms.
Planned Parenthood v. Casey is also effectively overturned.
According to Cornell Law School’s Legal Information Institute, the court uses previous court decisions as fact or authority for subsequent cases around the same legal issues. This is also known as precedent. Roe v. Wade was used as precedent itself in a 1992 landmark case called Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which, as mentioned earlier, established the “undue burden” standard for abortions. The “undue burden” refers to certain restrictions that states cannot place on women seeking abortions, such as notifying their husbands if married.
Now that Roe is overturned, Casey will also have to be considered overturned since Roe can no longer act as precedent. This will allow states to place previously banned restrictions on abortions, making it even more difficult for women to have safe abortion access.
Are we prepared for this chokehold on abortion access?
In April, the Atlantic published a look into abortion rights activists and their prepartion for a “post-Roe world.” The article spoke about the potential increase in the use of abortion pills, as well as the Del-Em, a device with pre-Roe origins to self-administer an abortion. Pills, which could be ordered online, also played a huge role in Texas abortions after a “heartbeat bill” was passed there in September: The overall number of abortions in Texas only declined by about 10% after the bill was passed, because women could order abortion pills online or traveled to clinics in nearby states, according to the New York Times.
It’s important to note that overturning Roe v. Wade will not stop all abortions — it will just make it much harder to get safe and legal ones. According to Planned Parenthood, in the 1960s before Roe made its way to the Supreme Court, illegal abortions made up one sixth of all pregnancy-related deaths, and eight in 10 low-income women in New York City who had had abortions, did so through self-induced procedures which were unsafe.
According to ABC News, minority women, especially Black and Hispanic women, are most likely to have abortions and therefore most likely to be affected by this court decision.
here’s how you can help.
The ACLU has published a list of things you can do to join the fight for abortion rights, including voting, donating, joining rallies, and more. As the situation develops, it’s likely that more in-person protests will start popping up around the country — in fact, they’re already beginning.
One of the most important things you can do in the meantime is donate to abortion funds. You can find your local abortion fund through the list on the National Network of Abortion Funds website. You can also split donations between more than 80 abortion funds by donating to the NNAF, and choose which abortion funds you want to support.
Reaching out to your representatives by phone or email is another way to make your voice heard. If you don’t know who your elected officials are, you can find them online, including your House representatives and senators, your state legislatures, and your state governor. Again, abortion rights now fall to each state individually. If you know you’re living somewhere that has a trigger law or concrete plans to restrict abortion rights in the coming days, making them hear you could make an impact.
Abortion rights activists are not going to stop making their voices heard. Roe v. Wade being overturned signals the end of an era, but not the end of the fight. It’s important to do as much as we can to protect abortion access for the millions of Americans this decision affects.