The Supreme Court ruled Friday that Americans no longer have a constitutional right to abortion, a watershed decision that overturned Roe v. Wade and erased reproductive rights in place for nearly five decades.
In the court’s most closely watched and controversial case in years, a majority of the justices – all of whom were appointed by Republican presidents – held that the right to end a pregnancy was not found in the text of the Constitution nor the nation’s history.
Associate Justice Samuel Alito wrote the opinion for a 6-3 majority, with the court’s liberal justices in dissent.
“Roe was egregiously wrong from the start,” Alito wrote for the majority. “Its reasoning was exceptionally weak, and the decision has had damaging consequences.”
Here’s what a future without Roe v. Wade means:
Abortion would probably become illegal in about half of states.
According to the Center for Reproductive Rights, a group that fights abortion restrictions in court and closely tracks state laws, 25 states are likely to ban abortion if they are allowed to. Those 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, Wisconsin and Wyoming.
Thirteen states have so-called trigger laws, which would immediately make abortion illegal now that Roe was overturned. Some have old abortion laws on the books that were invalidated by the Roe decision but could be enforced again. Still other states, like Oklahoma, have abortion bans that were passed during this legislative session, despite the Roe precedent.
Women could get arrested for having an abortion in a state where it’s illegal
Most of the state abortion bans that will go into effect have an exception so that the pregnant person cannot get arrested for obtaining an abortion. The trend where abortion is illegal is to criminalize those giving abortions or assisting those seeking abortions rather than criminalizing the women seeking, but that might change. We already have seen a disturbing trend where some women are being prosecuted. This will vary depending on the state you live in and the law in place there.”
States that continue to allow abortion will likely see an influx of patients seeking care
Many women will be forced to travel across state lines to access abortion — barring those who can’t leave family, jobs or can’t afford to — some will travel across international borders to Canada or Mexico in order to have the procedure done.
Anticipating the absence of a federally protected right to an abortion, some states have passed their own laws codifying Roe and abortion rights in state law. States including Illinois, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Massachusetts have had those laws on the books for years. New Jersey, Colorado, and Connecticut enacted measures earlier this year, and it looks like California will soon join them.
Women of color and low income families will bear the brunt of further abortion restrictions
Abortion-rights activists say banning the procedures will hurt people of color the hardest. People of color have the highest rate of getting abortions in the nation, so these Americans will likely have the hardest time with unwanted pregnancies or will be forced to raise children they cannot afford or didn’t want.
Advocates also say abortion bans will harm poor Americans disproportionally because they will be less able to travel to states where abortion remains legal. Advocates have raised concern that some may instead turn to illegal abortions close to home, raising the risk of death for a pregnant person.
Can President Biden, Congress protect abortion rights?
While Biden and Democratic vowed to use legislation to codify abortion rights, the Senate’s filibuster remains an obstacle.
In effect, filibuster rules require 60 votes to end debate on legislation and move to a vote. Currently, the Senate is evenly divided 50-50 with Vice President Kamala Harris acting as a tie breaking vote.
As a result, many progressives are calling on the Senate to eliminate the filibuster rules.
What does this mean for future civil rights cases?
Legal experts say the reasoning in this draft decision could lead the Supreme Court to overturn other civil rights protections, including gay marriage, and let states decide.
David Lane, a Denver-based civil rights attorney, said the draft decision could prompt the creation of a new “Underground Railroad” where people have to travel across state lines to exercise civil rights they once enjoyed nationally.
“There are innumerable earthshaking events that could flow from this,” Lane said. “The damage that this could to do American civil liberties is incalculable.”