In another monumental 6-3 ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday eliminated the federal right to an abortion, striking down the protection granted by the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973 and now leaving rights and regulations to states.
The consequences of the decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization will be severe, and in some cases, immediate: Many states have “trigger bans,” allowing abortion prohibitions to go into law right away. Other states intended to put into place bans after the decision was published, which was all but certain following a leak of the draft in May. But the consequences of the broad decision could be even more far-reaching than women’s rights to abortions, namely placing in danger the legal rights to contraception, same-sex marriage, and even private sexual relationships.
The basis of the decision, in the opinion written by Justice Samuel Alito, was that the right to abortion is not enshrined in the U.S. Constitution. “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,” he wrote. Moreover, Alito called the original Roe vs. Wade decision “egregiously wrong” and “an abuse of judicial authority.”
Agreeing with that rationale of unconstitutionality, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote separately that the justices, in future cases, “should reconsider all of this Court’s substantive due process precedents, including Griswold, Lawrence, and Obergefell,” which he called “erroneous decisions” and specifically mentioning a duty to “correct the error.”
Those three decisions were historic and milestone cases regarding reproductive and civil rights. Griswold v. Connecticut, from 1965, permits married couples to buy contraceptives without government restriction; Lawrence v. Texas, from 2003, banned sanctions for same-sex relationships; and Obergefell v. Hodges, from 2015, guaranteed the right to same-sex marriage. The conservative judges’ arguments are that these freedoms are equally not protected by the Constitution.
This originalist reading of the Constitution, focused on the scrupulous study of a centuries-old text in its purest terms, is becoming a trend in the conservative-majority Court, as are the far-reaching effects that go beyond the cases at hand. Earlier this week, the Court struck down a restriction on concealed-carry permits in New York State, but so broadly that it allows the future revisiting of other gun-control restrictions beyond concealed carry as unconstitutional, due to its strict and painstaking reading of the Second Amendment.
In the Dobbs case, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote a separate opinion saying the reasons for his concurrent decision were narrower, and based solely on the case, of Mississippi’s right to ban abortions after 15 weeks. Nevertheless, the majority decision will likely have sweeping impacts that may roll back decades of progress in America.