The End of Roe
In the wake of the Supreme Court's overturning of Roe v. Wade, pro-life demonstrators have protested in D.C., Los Angeles, New York, and Atlanta. (Harrison Mitchell/Unsplash)
For almost 50 years, Roe v. Wade has protected a woman’s rights to abortion, but on June 24, the landmark precedent was overturned by the Supreme Court, allowing states to form their own laws and restrictions against abortions.
Understanding Roe v. Wade
In 1973, an unmarried, pregnant, and single mother who went by the name Jane Roe sued District Attorney Henry Wade of Dallas County, Texas, ultimately challenging Texas abortion laws. Jane Roe (who later revealed her real name, Norma McCorvey) was joined by a doctor who stated that the Texas abortion laws “were too vague for doctors to follow.” Texas law made it illegal to carry out an abortion unless the mother’s life was at risk. Any attempt of abortion or carrying out an abortion was a crime.
Roe v. Wade centered around two issues: is one’s choice to have an abortion a “right to privacy”? Secondly, is it in the government’s interest to protect health and prenatal life? Those who wanted to keep abortion laws the same believed that it is in the state’s interest to safeguard health, maintain medical standards, and protect prenatal life. They believed that under the Fourteenth Amendment, a fetus has personhood. Those who wished to change the abortion laws believed that under the Fourteenth Amendment, the laws before Roe v. Wade affected an individual’s rights to liberty. They believed that a pregnant woman is entitled to end a pregnancy regardless of the reason, time, or way she chose; therefore, Texas’s abortion laws invaded marital, familial, and sexual privacy.
In the end, the Court recognized that in previous cases, “the unborn have never been recognized in the law as a person in the whole sense” and the Constitution never defined personhood. Therefore, its protection only covers those who are “born or naturalized” in the United States. Under this definition of a person, an unborn baby is not under the protection of the Constitution and the right to privacy, rights, and liberty allow the mother to ultimately decide on an abortion, to a certain extent.
Roe v. Wade ruled that a woman has the constitutional right to an abortion in the first 24 weeks of a pregnancy. In the first trimester of a pregnancy, the only regulations states could enforce were the requirement of a licensed doctor and medically safe conditions. During the second trimester of a pregnancy, the state was allowed to regulate abortions if it related to the health of the pregnant person. In the third trimester, the state was allowed to prohibit an abortion, unless necessary for the health of the pregnant person, because protecting potential human life outweighed the right to privacy. Despite the legalization of abortion, many states still instituted restrictions. Under the new abortion laws, around one million abortions were performed legally each year, whereas one million abortions were performed illegally each year before Roe v. Wade. However, death rates dropped drastically.
Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization
In 2018, the Supreme Court heard Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization. On March 19, 2018, Republican Governor Phil Bryant signed the bill, allowing the Mississippi Legislature to pass the Gestational Age Act, banning abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy unless the child or mother had a medical emergency and requiring physicians to determine and document the development of the baby. In November 2018, the Jackson Women’s Health Organization challenged the law. The District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi ruled in the clinic’s favor. In December 2019, the Fifth Circuit unanimously supported the lower court’s decision. As a result, in October 2021, the case was appealed to the Supreme Court, and in December 2021, justices heard oral arguments from both sides.
According to recent surveys, a majority of Americans (76 percent) believe that abortions should only be limited to the first three months of a pregnancy. 65 percent of Americans believe that second-trimester abortions should be illegal in all if not most cases, and 80 percent of Americans believe that third-trimester abortions should be illegal in all if not most cases. Recent research has revealed to scientists that a 15-week fetus is capable of feeling pain, has a fully formed nose, lips, eyelids, eyebrows, and is able to suck their thumbs. In past cases, pre-term babies that were 15 weeks old or younger have been able to survive with the proper care and treatment. Permitting abortions before the 15-week mark would bring the U.S. into closer alignment with several European countries like Germany and France who limit abortions to 14 weeks.
The Dobbs case resulted in the revisitation of Roe v. Wade, which ultimately led to its overturning and the return of abortion regulation to states. Looking back in U.S. history and traditions, abortions have always been frowned upon and even criminalized. According to Justice Alito, during Roe, these details were “either ignored or misstated this history.” On behalf of the Supreme Court, Justice Alito added, “It is time to heed the Consitituion and return the issue of abortion to the people’s elected representative.” Justice Samuel Alito was joined by Justice Clarence Thomas, Neil Corsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett.
The World’s Reaction to the Overturning of Roe v. Wade
The UN reminded the U.S. that in 1980 they signed an agreement called the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. However, with the overturning of Roe v. Wade, the U.S. has become one of seven countries that signed the agreement but did not ratify it. The agreement was meant to end the criminalization of abortions that were carried out in cases of rape, incest, threats to life, health of pregnant person, and severe fetal impairment.
After the overturning of Roe v. Wade, many world leaders turned to social media to share their thoughts on the recent developments of abortions in the U.S. Britain Prime Minister Boris Johnson deemed the overturning of Roe v. Wade a “big step backwards,” adding that he “always believed in a woman’s right to choose.” Canadian Prime Minister Justing Trudeau called it an “attack on women’s freedom” and “quite frankly . . . an attack on everyone’s freedom.” Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez stated, “We cannot take any right for granted,” and “women must be able to decide freely about their lives.” French President Emmanuel Macron called abortion “a fundamental right for all women.” Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederikson called it “a huge setback,” adding that her “heart cries for girls and women in the U.S.” Scotland First Minister Nicola Sturgeon called the overturning “one of the darkest days for women’s rights in my lifetime.”
Effects of the Overturning of Roe v. Wade
After the overturning of Roe v. Wade, the power to regulate abortions was returned to the state level. Almost instantly, Kentucky, Louisiana and South Dakota banned abortions with Utah, Oklahoma, Missouri, Wisconsin, Arkansas, and Alabama following not long after. Experts expect that Idaho, Wyoming, North Dakota, Texas, Mississippi, Tennessee, and West Virginia will also ban abortions.
On the other side of the spectrum, several states have increased support for women who seek an abortion. In Massachusetts, Governor Charlie Baker, a moderate Republican, signed an executive order placing medical providers who perform abortions for out-of-state residents under protection. California, Oregon, Washington, Colorado, North Carolina, Maine, and Rhode Islands also took steps to protect their view of women’s rights.
Experts believe that the number of legal abortions will be reduced by as little as 13 percent. In many red states, abortion was already heavily restricted, and even with the overturning of Roe v. Wade, these states are expected to change their abortion regulations by very little, if not at all. It has also been predicted that access to abortions will decrease, making it even more difficult for people of lower income to get abortions.
Since the overturning of Roe v. Wade, a spike has occurred in voting registration. According to Vote.org, a website that allows people from all around the country to register to vote, Missouri had an increase of 627 percent of people registering to vote. In Kansas, the number of people who registered to vote online after one week of the overturning of Roe v. Wade increased by 1,038 percent. The overturning of Roe v. Wade will also affect how residents of the U.S. vote in the upcoming elections. In New Hampshire, Democratic Senator Maggie Hassan and Republican Senator Mitch Connell stand on opposite sides. Senator Maggie Hassan said, “It’s going to be critically important this fall for people to understand that Mitch McConnell and my opponents want to pass a national abortion ban.” According to recent surveys, 62 percent of adult Americans believe that abortions should be legal in all or most cases. 57 percent disapprove of the Supreme Court’s decision, with 43 percent strongly disapproving. 41 percent of Americans agree with the Court’s decision, with 25 percent strongly approving. Gender, race, age, education, religion, marital status, and political standing are all factors that affect whether a person disapproves or approves of the Court’s decision.
Abortion regulations are also expected to affect where people live. After the overturning of Roe v. Wade, 41 percent of women ages 18–29 expressed anger, and 32 percent felt hopeless. Two out of three women stated that they would take into consideration a state’s abortion laws, and 31 percent stated abortion laws would play a major role in choosing a state to live in.
It is also likely that in the future, more debates will arise over abortion. Half of legal abortions in the U.S. occur by medication instead of surgery because it is safer and effective. So far, Texas and Louisiana have made it a crime to mail pills to other states. Will medical abortion pills be banned? Will states punish health care providers who provide abortions for women who live in states where abortions are illegal? Justice Clarence Thomas believes the recent developments on abortion might also lead to an overturn of access to contraceptives and debates about same-sex marriages. Currently, some states have made it a crime to abort a baby by surgery, but will they also ban medical abortion pills?
President Biden expressed a desire to make it easier for women to get an abortion. He plans on protecting a woman’s access to abortion medications and contraceptions, legalizing traveling out of state for abortions, and ensuring that women have access to emergency medical care. Health and Human Services Secretary Xaview Becerra wrote in a letter to health care providers, “Under the law, no matter where you live, women have the right to emergency care — including abortion care.” In the future, medical facilities will determine whether a person is in labor, an emergency health situation, or one that will develop into an emergency. By law, they are required to provide treatment whether or not it means performing an abortion.
In recent interviews, President Biden has discussed his views on the overturning of Roe v. Wade: “I believe we have to codify Roe v. Wade into law. And the way to do that is to make sure Congress votes to do that.” Like many Democrats, Biden believes that abortion is protected by the right to privacy, stating that the overturning “is a serious, serious problem the Supreme Court has thrust upon the United States.” He has even posed the possibility of making an exception to the filibuster, a political procedure in which Senate members can indefinitely stall legislation. Biden stated, “If the filibuster gets in the way, it’s like voting rights, we provide an exception for this . . . we require an exception of the filibuster for this action.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell criticized Biden’s reaction to the overturning of Roe v. Wade, stating, “Attacking a core American institution like the Supreme Court from the world stage is below the dignity of the President…Biden’s attacks on the Court are unmerited and dangerous. He’s upset that the Court said the people, through their elected representatives will have a say on abortion policy.”
The overturning of Roe v. Wade brought the U.S. into more internal conflict over abortion, as each state makes their own rules and regulations. For now, the overturning is expected to affect voting and housing, prompt new debates over medicinal abortion medications, and may even result in a revisitation of same-sex marriage and the right to privacy.
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