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Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade; states can ban abortion

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Abortion right activists gather outside the Supreme Court in Washington, Friday, June 24, 2022. The Supreme Court has ended constitutional protections for abortion that had been in place nearly 50 years, a decision by its conservative majority to overturn the court's landmark abortion cases.
Abortion right activists gather outside the Supreme Court in Washington, Friday, June 24, 2022. The Supreme Court has ended constitutional protections for abortion that had been in place nearly 50 years, a decision by its conservative majority to overturn the court's landmark abortion cases. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana) Photo Gallery

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court on Friday stripped away women’s constitutional protections for abortion, a fundamental and deeply personal change for Americans’ lives after nearly a half-century under Roe v. Wade. The court’s overturning of the landmark court ruling is likely to lead to abortion bans in roughly half the states.

The ruling, unthinkable just a few years ago, was the culmination of decades of efforts by abortion opponents, made possible by an emboldened right side of the court fortified by three appointees of former President Donald Trump.

Both sides predicted the fight over abortion would continue, in state capitals, in Washington and at the ballot box. Justice Clarence Thomas, part of Friday’s majority, urged colleagues to overturn other high court rulings protecting same-sex marriage, gay sex and the use of contraceptives.

Pregnant women considering abortions already had been dealing with a near-complete ban in Oklahoma and a prohibition after roughly six weeks in Texas. Clinics in at least eight other states — Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Kentucky, Missouri, South Dakota, Wisconsin and West Virginia — stopped performing abortions after Friday’s decision.

Abortion foes cheered the ruling, but abortion-rights supporters, including President Joe Biden, expressed dismay and pledged to fight to restore the rights.

Roe Overturned

Abortion right activists gather outside the Supreme Court in Washington, Friday, June 24, 2022. The Supreme Court has ended constitutional protections for abortion that had been in place nearly 50 years, a decision by its conservative majority to overturn the court's landmark abortion cases. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade; states can ban abortion
The Supreme Court on Friday stripped away women’s constitutional protections for abortion, a fundamental and deeply personal change for Americans' lives after nearly…
A celebration outside the Supreme Court, Friday, June 24, 2022, in Washington. The Supreme Court has ended constitutional protections for abortion that had been in place nearly 50 years -- a decision by its conservative majority to overturn the court's landmark abortion cases. How U.S. states have banned, limited or protected abortion
The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday overturned Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that had provided a constitutional right to abortion. The ruling is expected…
Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee addresses a gathering before raising the LGBTQ Pride Celebration flag seen behind him during a noon ceremony at the Capitol Campus flag circle, Tuesday, June 21, 2022, in Olympia, Wash. A variety of events celebrating the LGBTQ community statewide have taken place and are also scheduled through the month of June. Governors announce ‘West Coast offense’ to protect abortion
The Democratic governors of California, Washington and Oregon on Friday vowed to protect reproductive rights and help women who travel to the West…
Women's rights supporters, from left, Lacy Nadeau, Carolyn Nadeau, Rebecca Rutzick and Joe Ward, all of Olympia, Wash., rally on the Capitol Campus in Olympia, Wash., Friday, June 24, 2022, following the morning's announcement of the U.S. Supreme Court's overturning of Roe v Wade. Clark County politicians have mixed reactions to Roe being overturned
A rallying cry of mourning and celebration echoed nationwide Friday after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned nearly 50 years of legal precedent protecting abortion rights.

“It’s a sad day for the court and for the country,” Biden said at the White House. He urged voters to make it a defining issue in the November elections, declaring, “This decision must not be the final word.”

Outside the White House, Ansley Cole, a college student from Atlanta, said she was “scared because what are they going to come after next? … The next election cycle is going to be brutal, like it’s terrifying. And if they’re going to do this, again, what’s next?”

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of SBA Pro-Life America, agreed about the political stakes.

“We are ready to go on offense for life in every single one of those legislative bodies, in each statehouse and the White House,” Dannenfelser said in a statement.

Trump praised the ruling, telling Fox News that it “will work out for everybody.”

The decision is expected to disproportionately affect minority women who already face limited access to health care, according to statistics analyzed by The Associated Press.

It also puts the court at odds with a majority of Americans who favored preserving Roe, according to opinion polls.

Surveys conducted by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research and others have shown a majority in favor of abortion being legal in all or most circumstances. But many also support restrictions especially later in pregnancy. Surveys consistently show that about 1 in 10 Americans want abortion to be illegal in all cases.

The ruling came more than a month after the stunning leak of a draft opinion by Justice Samuel Alito indicating the court was prepared to take this momentous step.

Alito, in the final opinion issued Friday, wrote that Roe and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the 1992 decision that reaffirmed the right to abortion, were wrong had to be be overturned.

“We therefore hold that 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,” Alito wrote, in an opinion that was very similar to the leaked draft.

Joining Alito were Thomas and Justices Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, Amy Coney Barrett. The latter three justices are Trump appointees. Thomas first voted to overrule Roe 30 years ago.

A look at 50 years of Supreme Court abortion decisions

WASHINGTON (AP) — A look at some of the Supreme Court's major abortion rulings over the last 50 years. During that time, the court's membership and views on abortion regulations have changed.

1973 — The court legalizes abortion nationwide in the landmark Roe v. Wade decision.

1976 — The court strikes down a Missouri law requiring a married woman to get her husband's consent for an abortion.

1986 — The court strikes down portions of a Pennsylvania law it said attempted to intimidate women into continuing pregnancies by, among other things, requiring them to be told the risks associated with abortion.

1989 — The court declines to overrule Roe but allows more state regulation of abortion.

1992 — The court reaffirms its decision in Roe and says states can't ban abortion before viability, the point at which a fetus can survive outside the womb, around 24 weeks of pregnancy.

2000 — The court strikes down a Nebraska law that barred an abortion procedure used during the second trimester of pregnancy. The law didn't have an exception to the ban for the health of the pregnant woman.

2007 — In a decision weakening Roe, the court upholds the 2003 Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act passed by Congress, which is similar to Nebraska's law.

2016 — In its strongest defense of abortion rights in 25 years, the court strikes down Texas rules forcing clinics to meet hospital-like standards and doctors to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals.

2020 — A more conservative court strikes down a Louisiana law nearly identical to the Texas one it struck down in 2016.

2021 — The court declines to take emergency action and allows a Texas law banning abortion beginning at around six weeks to take effect.

2022 — The court overturns Roe v. Wadeending constitutional protections for abortion that had been in place nearly 50 years.

Four justices would have left Roe and Casey in place.

The vote was 6-3 to uphold the Mississippi law, but Chief Justice John Roberts didn’t join his conservative colleagues in overturning Roe. He wrote that there was no need to overturn the broad precedents to rule in Mississippi’s favor.

Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan — the diminished liberal wing of the court — were in dissent.

“With sorrow—for this Court, but more, for the many millions of American women who have today lost a fundamental constitutional protection—we dissent,” they wrote, warning that abortion opponents now could pursue a nationwide ban “from the moment of conception and without exceptions for rape or incest.”

Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement that the Justice Department will protect providers and those seeking abortions in states where it is legal and also “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, Garland said that the federal Food and Drug Administration has approved the use of Mifepristone for medication abortions.

More than 90% of abortions take place in the first 13 weeks of pregnancy, and more than half are now done with pills, not surgery, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports abortion rights.

Mississippi’s only abortion clinic, which was at the center of Friday’s case, continued to see patients Friday. Outside, men used a bullhorn to tell people inside that they would burn in hell. Clinic escorts wearing colorful vests used large speakers to blast Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down” at the protesters.

Mississippi, Alabama, Kentucky and Missouri are among 13 states, mainly in the South and Midwest, that already have laws on the books to ban abortion in the event Roe was overturned. Another half-dozen states have near-total bans or prohibitions after 6 weeks of pregnancy, before many women know they are pregnant.

In roughly a half-dozen other states, including West Virginia and Wisconsin, the fight will be over dormant abortion bans that were enacted before Roe was decided in 1973 or new proposals to sharply limit when abortions can be performed, according to Guttmacher.

Outside the barricaded Supreme Court, a crowd of mostly young women grew into the hundreds within hours of the decision. Some shouted, “The Supreme Court is illegitimate,” while waves of others, wearing red shirts with “The Pro-Life Generation Votes,” celebrated, danced and thrust their arms into the air.

The Biden administration and other defenders of abortion rights have warned that a decision overturning Roe also would threaten other high court decisions in favor of gay rights and even potentially contraception.

The liberal justices made the same point in their joint dissent: The majority “eliminates a 50-year-old constitutional right that safeguards women’s freedom and equal station. It breaches a core rule-of-law principle, designed to promote constancy in the law. In doing all of that, it places in jeopardy other rights, from contraception to same-sex intimacy and marriage. And finally, it undermines the Court’s legitimacy.”

And Thomas, the member of the court most open to jettisoning prior decisions, wrote a separate opinion in which he explicitly called on his colleagues to put the Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage, gay sex and contraception cases on the table.

But Alito contended that his analysis addresses abortion only. “Nothing in this opinion should be understood to cast doubt on precedents that do not concern abortion,” he wrote.

Whatever the intentions of the person who leaked Alito’s draft opinion, the conservatives held firm in overturning Roe and Casey.

In his opinion, Alito dismissed the arguments in favor of retaining the two decisions, including that multiple generations of American women have partly relied on the right to abortion to gain economic and political power.

Changing the makeup of the court has been central to the anti-abortion side’s strategy, as the dissenters archly noted. “The Court reverses course today for one reason and one reason only: because the composition of this Court has changed,” the liberal justices wrote.

Mississippi and its allies made increasingly aggressive arguments as the case developed, and two high-court defenders of abortion rights retired or died. The state initially argued that its law could be upheld without overruling the court’s abortion precedents.

Justice Anthony Kennedy retired shortly after the Mississippi law took effect in 2018 and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died in September 2020. Both had been members of a five-justice majority that was mainly protective of abortion rights.

In their Senate hearings, Trump’s three high-court picks carefully skirted questions about how they would vote in any cases, including about abortion.

Excerpts from the Supreme Court's landmark abortion decision

The Supreme Court, in a ruling Friday, ended constitutional protections for abortion that had been in place for nearly 50 years. The court's conservative majority voted to overturn Roe v. Wade from 1973 and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the 1992 decision that reaffirmed the right to abortion. The outcome is expected to lead to abortion bans in roughly half the states. A look at what some of the justices said in their opinions:

JUSTICE SAMUEL ALITO'S MAJORITY OPINION:

Alito's opinion was joined by four other conservative justices. He wrote: “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. It is time to heed the Constitution and return the issue of abortion to the people’s elected representatives.”

He said that "a right to abortion is not deeply rooted in the Nation’s history and traditions. On the contrary, an unbroken tradition of prohibiting abortion on pain of criminal punishment persisted from the earliest days of the common law until 1973."

"Our Nation’s historical understanding of ordered liberty does not prevent the people’s elected representatives from deciding how abortion should be regulated."

"Roe was also egregiously wrong and deeply damaging. For reasons already explained, Roe’s constitutional analysis was far outside the bounds of any reasonable interpretation of the various constitutional provisions to which it vaguely pointed. "

Alito said the justices who decided Roe v. Wade “usurped the power to address a question of profound moral and social importance that the Constitution unequivocally leaves for the people. Casey described itself as calling both sides of the national controversy to resolve their debate, but in doing so, Casey necessarily declared a winning side. Those on the losing side — those who sought to advance the State’s interest in fetal life — could no longer seek to persuade their elected representatives to adopt policies consistent with their views. The Court short-circuited the democratic process by closing it to the large number of Americans who dissented in any respect from Roe.”

He criticized the Roe decision by saying, "The scheme Roe produced looked like legislation, and the Court provided the sort of explanation that might be expected from a legislative body."

“The contending sides in this case make impassioned and conflicting arguments about the effects of the abortion right on the lives of women. ... The contending sides also make conflicting arguments about the status of the fetus. This Court has neither the authority nor the expertise to adjudicate those disputes.”

Alito responded to suggestions that the decision could imperil other rights such as a right to same-sex marriage and a right to contraception. He wrote that to "ensure that our decision is not misunderstood or mischaracterized, we emphasize that our decision concerns the constitutional right to abortion and no other right. Nothing in this opinion should be understood to cast doubt on precedents that do not concern abortion."

Alito said the justices "cannot allow our decisions to be affected by any extraneous influences such as concern about the public’s reaction to our work."

Near the end of his opinion, he wrote: “We do not pretend to know how our political system or society will respond to today’s decision overruling Roe and Casey. And even if we could foresee what will happen, we would have no authority to let that knowledge influence our decision. We can only do our job, which is to interpret the law ... and decide this case accordingly.”

JUSTICE CLARENCE THOMAS JOINED THE MAJORITY BUT WROTE SEPARATELY:

Thomas called on the court to overturn rulings protecting same-sex marriage, gay sex and the use of contraceptives. He said that in "in future cases, we should reconsider all of this Court’s substantive due process precedents."

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JUSTICE BRETT KAVANAUGH ALSO JOINED THE MAJORITY BUT WROTE SEPARATELY:

Kavanaugh wrote to explain his belief that the Constitution is “neither pro-life nor pro-choice” but neutral and that the court’s decision “today properly returns the Court to a position of neutrality” and lets Americans decide the issue through the democratic process. He noted that the decision “does not outlaw abortion” throughout the country. He said his view is that a state can’t bar a resident from “traveling to another State to obtain an abortion” or “retroactively impose liability or punishment for an abortion that occurred before today’s decision.”

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CHIEF JUSTICE JOHN ROBERTS:

Roberts didn’t join his conservative colleagues in overturning Roe and Casey. He wrote there was no need to overturn the broad precedents to rule in favor of a Mississippi abortion law at issue in the case.

“I would take a more measured course. I agree with the Court that the viability line established by Roe and Casey should be discarded under a straightforward stare decisis analysis. That line never made any sense. Our abortion precedents describe the right at issue as a woman’s right to choose to terminate her pregnancy. That right should therefore extend far enough to ensure a reasonable opportunity to choose, but need not extend any further — certainly not all the way to viability.”

THE JOINT DISSENT BY JUSTICES STEPHEN BREYER, SONIA SOTOMAYOR AND ELENA KAGAN:

The justices wrote that following the court's decision “from the very moment of fertilization, a woman has no rights to speak of. A State can force her to bring a pregnancy to term, even at the steepest personal and familial costs.”

They put it another way: “As of today, this Court holds, a State can always force a woman to give birth, prohibiting even the earliest abortions.”

The justices said allowing each state to set its own abortion laws "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 justices warned more restrictions could come: “Most threatening of all, no language in today’s decision stops the Federal Government from prohibiting abortions nationwide, once again from the moment of conception and without exceptions for rape or incest.”

“The majority (or to be more accurate, most of it) is eager to tell us today that nothing it does” casts doubt on precedents that do not concern abortion. "But how could that be? The lone rationale for what the majority does today is that the right to elect an abortion is not ‘deeply rooted in history.’”

The dissenters noted the many years that Roe and Casey have been in effect: “The majority has no good reason for the upheaval in law and society it sets off. Roe and Casey have been the law of the land for decades, shaping women’s expectations of their choices when an unplanned pregnancy occurs.”

The liberal justices said the decision was attributable to that the court has become more conservative with the addition of new members: “The Court reverses course today for one reason and one reason only: because the composition of this Court has changed.”

They ended: “With sorrow — for this Court, but more, for the many millions of American women who have today lost a fundamental constitutional protection — we dissent.”

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