Supreme Court ruling leaves states free to outlaw abortion

The Supreme Court on Friday overturned the fundamental right to abortion established nearly 50 years ago in Roe v. Wade, a stunning reversal that could alter the nation’s political landscape and leaves states free to drastically reduce or even outlaw a procedure that abortion rights groups said is key to women’s equality and independence.

“Roe was egregiously wrong from the start. 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,” Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. wrote. “It is time to heed the Constitution and return the issue of abortion to the people’s elected representatives.”

The vote was 6 to 3 to uphold a restrictive Mississippi law. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., though, criticized his conservative colleagues for taking the additional step of overturning Roe and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which had reaffirmed the right to abortion.

The decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health was the most anticipated of the court’s term, with political tension surrounding the fight over abortion rights erupting in May with the leak of a draft opinion indicating a majority of justices intended to end the long-standing precedent.

Speaking from the White House, President Biden called the decision to overturn Roe a “tragic error” and urged voters to turn out in November to elect lawmakers willing to enact abortion protections.

“This is a sad day for the country in my view, but it doesn’t mean the fight is over,” he said.

The justices were considering a Mississippi law that would ban almost all abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. The law had not taken effect because lower courts said it was at odds with the national right to abortion established in Roe v. Wade in 1973 and affirmed by subsequent Supreme Court rulings.

The decision was an extraordinary victory for the conservative legal movement, which for decades has made overturning Roe its highest priority and had been frustrated in previous trips to the Supreme Court. The decision came from a court more conservative than the nation has seen in decades, bolstered by three justices nominated by President Donald Trump.

It was a worst-case scenario for abortion rights supporters, who had comforted themselves in the past with the notion that while abortion might be restricted, the fundamental right would never be erased. The right will now be decided by state legislatures, as it had until Roe was decided in 1973, and could lead to the procedure being banned in more than half the states.

Justice Stephen G. Breyer, who will be retiring from the court at the end of the term, dissented along with fellow liberals Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. They said the decision was devastating for women.

“It says that from the very moment of fertilization, a woman has no rights to speak of,” they wrote in a joint dissent. “A State can force her to bring a pregnancy to term, even at the steepest personal and familial costs. An abortion restriction, the majority holds, is permissible whenever rational, the lowest level of scrutiny known to the law.”