US Supreme Court Overruled Constitutional Guarantee Of Abortion Access In Roe V Wade
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US Supreme Court Overruled Constitutional Guarantee of Abortion Access in Roe v Wade  

In a landmark ruling on June 24th 2022, the US Supreme Court overruled the constitutional guarantee of abortion access in the US in Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health by overturning Roe v Wade.

Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Organization

Six out of nine Supreme Court justices voted to uphold Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Organization. This case revolved around legislation passed by Mississippi in March 2018, banning the termination of pregnancy after 15 weeks. This ban came with no exceptions for instances of rape or incest. Dobbs argued that Mississippi should enforce an abortion ban. Furthermore, Dobbs argued that the constitutional abortion rights set down in Roe v Wade and Planned Parenthood v Casey should also be revoked. By ruling in favour of Dobbs, the Supreme Court removed federal protections for abortion rights provided by these cases. Consequently, individual states are given complete control over which abortion laws they wish to establish.

Furthermore, this ruling reverses nearly half a century of court protection of this fundamental right. This decision will fundamentally change the US’s political, social and legal landscape.

The decision held:

“The Constitution does not confer a right to abortion; Roe and Casey are overruled, and the authority to regulate abortion is returned to the people and their elected representatives.”

What Happened in Roe v Wade and Planned Parenthood v Casey?

Roe v Wade is a landmark case of a Texas woman, Norma Mc Corvey. Under Texan law in 1969, women could only terminate a pregnancy if their lives were in danger. Thus, Norma became pregnant but was unable to access an abortion.

Moreover, Roe v Wade was brought before the US Federal Court against the local district attorney Henry Wade. The defendant argued that Texan abortion laws were unconstitutional. The District Court for the Northern District of Texas ruled in her favour. However, Mr Wade appealed against the decision at the US Supreme Court. Subsequently, seven out of nine judges voted in favour of Roe. This ruling gave everyone in the US the constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy within the first 12 weeks.

In 1982, Planned Parenthood v Casey added additional abortion rights into the US constitution. The ruling held that states could have their own abortion laws. However, these laws could not create any ‘undue burden’ or ‘substantial obstacle’ to women seeking abortions up to 24 weeks.

What is the Immediate Impact of the Overturning of Roe v Wade?

50% of US States Expected to Pass Total or Partial Bans on Abortion

States are poised to ban abortion through pre-existing bans or “trigger laws” that will now go into effect following the overturning of Roe. According to the Guttmacher Institute, more than 10 million people will cross state borders to access abortion in the nearest state where it is legal. According to the US Centre for Reproductive Rights, 24 states will likely pass near-total or partial bans on abortion in the coming days.

These states are:

Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

Image illustrates the US states which will ban or seek to ban abortion following the ruling in Roe v Wade.
Caption: Image Obtained from Sky News.

Justice Samuel Alito stated that “the constitution makes no reference to abortion, and no such right is implicitly protected by any constitutional provision”. The ruling came from conservative Justices Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett.

Liberals Raise Concerns Over A Wider Rights Backslide

Liberal justices raise legal concerns over the majority’s ruling over abortion. Thus, liberals argue that this threatens the initiation of a broader rights backlash undermining several other constitutional rights.

Roe v Wade had reasoned that a right to abortion stems from a right to privacy. This right is grounded in the first, fourth, fifth, ninth and 14th amendments. Worryingly, by overturning Roe, the Constitution mentions no explicit right to privacy. Therefore, this dangerously suggests that a myriad of laws based on the right to privacy are erroneous.

Moreover, this ruling could facilitate the deprivation of further rights. Overturning Roe v Wade creates an opportunity to create new bills based on the right to privacy. Thus, restricting access to birth control, gender and marriage equality, as well as other anti-discrimination laws.

Additionally, liberals highlight how the ruling fails to consider the 14th amendment. This amendment upholds that no state shall “deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law”.

US Maternal Mortality Crisis Expected To Worsen

The US has the highest maternal death rate in the developed world, with this crisis steadily growing in recent years. Therefore, widespread abortion bans will deepen the US maternal mortality crisis. Health care experts raise concerns that closing abortion clinics, setting early gestational limits or outlawing the procedure altogether will increase the US maternal death rate.

Furthermore, a 2021 American Journal of Public Health study showed how states with restrictive abortion laws had a 7% higher maternal mortality rate. In 2020, the American Journal of Preventative Medicine held that states with gestational limits saw a 38% increase in maternal mortality deaths.

Amnesty International has stated that the recent ruling will force women to seek unsafe abortions. Therefore, maternal mortality and morbidity will rise, disproportionally affecting Black people and people living in poverty.

Women who seek illegal abortions are subject to life-threatening consequences such as eclampsia and postpartum haemorrhaging. Additionally, women are susceptible to chronic conditions such as migraines and persistent joint pain. Numerous aid groups have advocated for legal abortion on the grounds that restricting abortion would only make it less safe.

International Leader’s Perspectives On Roe v Wade Decision

The Supreme Court ruling drew unusual criticism from some of America’s closest allies.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the decision would have huge impacts worldwide. “I think it’s a big step backwards. I’ve always believed in a woman’s right to choose, and that’s why the UK has the laws it does”.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau condemned the decision. “No government, politician, or man should tell a woman what she can and cannot do with her body”.

French President Emmanuel Macron expressed his “solidarity with women whose freedoms are today challenged” by the overturning of Roe.

Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde said that “depriving women of their rights is a backlash against decades of hard-fought work”.

US President Joe Biden heavily criticized the ruling stating that “the United States is an outlier among developed nations in the world”.

In stark contrast, former President Donald Trump praised the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe, stating that this “will work out for everybody.”

Coincidently, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, an ally of former President Donald Trump, posted on Twitter hours before the decision to criticize an abortion carried out on an 11-year-old girl who was pregnant as the result of rape. This response showcases the Brazilian President’s view on abortion laws.

Conclusion

Despite the deeply divided personal views on the morality behind abortion, research has indicated that criminalizing abortion does not prevent them from occurring. Banning or restricting abortions means many women will seek illegal and unsafe ways to terminate pregnancies. This is putting millions at risk of severe health complications.

Death and injury from unsafe abortions are entirely preventable. Hence, access to safe abortions is a human right under international human rights law. International law provides everyone with a right to life and health. Furthermore, everyone has the right to be free from discrimination, torture or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. Forcing women to carry out unwanted pregnancies and seek unsafe abortions violates their right to privacy and bodily autonomy.

In conclusion, providing access to safe abortion protects and upholds the human rights of women, girls and others of reproductive age. Therefore, the US Supreme Court has destroyed protections for a fundamental right closely linked with gender equality, racial justice, and fundamental economic and social rights.

Finally, this ruling and precedent will profoundly impact women’s lives in the US and worldwide.

Laura Shorten
Laura Shorten is an Irish human rights consultant and researcher based in the Netherlands. Laura qualified with an International Bachelor of Social Sciences degree from University College Dublin. She majored in politics, international relations and social policy. Laura graduated from Technological University Dublin with a Postgraduate Diploma in Law. In 2021, she graduated with an Advanced LL.M in International Children’s Rights at Leiden University. Laura specializes in international law, children’s human rights, political science, international relations, middle eastern studies, refugee/migration law, gender studies, strategic litigation and global diplomacy. Laura has published various articles pertaining to international law and human rights violations occuring worldwide. Laura defended her Advanced Master’s Thesis entitled “An Analysis of the Convention on the Rights of the Child’s Legal Framework in Protecting Children’s Right to Health and Right to Life in the Face of Climate Change”. This thesis is published on the Leiden University website under the Advanced Master of Law Theses for children's rights. Laura has previously worked for UNICEF Ireland, campaigning for children worldwide who are facing discrimination and living in war zones.

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