US Supreme Court strikes down right to abortion

Blinken says US still committed to reproductive rights globally: Abortion access threatened in half of US states

Published: 09:07 AM, 25 Jun, 2022
US Supreme Court strikes down right to abortion
Caption: Abortion rights activists protest outside the Planned Parenthood Reproductive Health Services Center after the US Supreme Court struck down the right to abortion in a seismic ruling.–AFP
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The US Supreme Court on Friday struck down the right to abortion in a seismic ruling that shredded five decades of constitutional protections and prompted several right-leaning states to impose immediate bans.

Protests broke out almost immediately in Washington and elsewhere, with dozens of demonstrations under way or planned across the country Friday evening.

The conservative-dominated court overturned the landmark 1973 "Roe v. Wade" decision enshrining a woman's right to an abortion, saying individual states can restrict or ban the procedure themselves.

"The Constitution does not confer a right to abortion," the court said in a 6-3 ruling on one of America's most bitterly divisive issues. "The authority to regulate abortion is returned to the people and their elected representatives."

A somber President Joe Biden called the ruling a "tragic error" stemming from "extreme ideology" and said it was a "sad day for the court and the country."

"The health and life of women in this nation are now at risk," Biden said, warning that other rights could be threatened next, such as same-sex marriage and contraception.

The Democratic president urged Congress to restore abortion protections as federal law and said Roe will be "on the ballot" in November's midterm elections. 

- 'You have failed us' -

Hundreds of people -- some weeping for joy and others with grief -- gathered outside the fenced-off Supreme Court as the ruling came down.

"It's hard to imagine living in a country that does not respect women as human beings and their right to control their bodies," said Jennifer Lockwood-Shabat, 49, a mother of two daughters who was choking back tears.

"You have failed us," read a sign held up by one protestor. "Shame," said another.

But Gwen Charles, a 21-year-old opponent of abortion, was jubilant.

"This is the day that we have been waiting for," Charles told AFP. "We get to usher in a new culture of life in the United States."

Just hours after the ruling, Missouri banned abortion -- making no exception for rape or incest -- and so did South Dakota, except where the life of the mother is at risk.

"This is a monumental day for the sanctity of life," Missouri attorney general Eric Schmitt said.

As of Friday evening, at least seven states had banned abortion -- Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Oklahoma, and South Dakota.

Altogether about two dozen states are expected to severely restrict or outright ban and criminalize abortions, forcing women to travel long distances to states that still permit the procedure. 

Protesters marched in New York, Boston and elsewhere as anger over the decision grew. 

"Abortion is health care, health care is a right," people in a crowd in New York chanted as they marched in Manhattan, NBC news reported.

Criticism of the move came from abroad, including from US allies like Britain, whose Prime Minister Boris Johnson called it "a big step backwards."

Canada's Justin Trudeau said it was "horrific," and French President Emmanuel Macron voiced his "solidarity with women whose freedoms are today challenged."

- 'Egregiously wrong' -

In the majority opinion, Justice Samuel Alito said Roe v. Wade was "egregiously wrong."

"Abortion presents a profound moral issue on which Americans hold sharply conflicting views," he said. "The Constitution does not prohibit the citizens of each State from regulating or prohibiting abortion."

The court tossed out the legal argument in Roe v. Wade that women had the right to abortion based on the constitutional right to privacy with regard to their own bodies.

While the ruling represents a victory in the struggle against abortion by the religious right, leaders of the largely Christian conservative movement said it does not go far enough and they will push for a nationwide ban.

"While it's a major step in the right direction, overturning Roe does not end abortion," said the group March for Life.

"God made the decision," said former Republican president Donald Trump in praising the court's ruling.

The ruling was made possible by Trump's nomination of three conservative justices -- Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett.

- 'Will not stop there' -

The three liberal justices on the court dissented from the ruling -- which came a day after the court ushered in a major expansion of US gun rights.

"One result of today's decision is certain: the curtailment of women's rights, and of their status as free and equal citizens," they said.

Abortion providers could now face criminal penalties and "some States will not stop there," they warned.

"Perhaps, in the wake of today's decision, a state law will criminalize the woman's conduct too, incarcerating or fining her for daring to seek or obtain an abortion," they said.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, 13 states have adopted so-called "trigger laws" that will ban abortion virtually immediately.

Ten others have pre-1973 laws that could go into force or legislation that would ban abortion after six weeks, before many women even know they are pregnant.

Women in states with strict anti-abortion laws will either have to continue with their pregnancy, undergo a clandestine abortion, obtain abortion pills, or travel to another state where it remains legal.

Several Democratic-ruled states, anticipating an influx, have taken steps to facilitate abortion and three of them -- California, Oregon and Washington -- issued a joint pledge to defend access in the wake of the court's decision.

Abortion access threatened in half of US states

The US Supreme Court's overturning of America's constitutional right to abortion gives all 50 states the freedom to ban the procedure, with nearly half expected to do so in some form.

- Automatic bans -

Thirteen states, mostly in the conservative and religious south of the country, have in recent years adopted so-called "trigger" laws to come into force virtually automatically after the decision was handed down.

And as of Friday evening, at least seven states had banned the procedure: Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Oklahoma, and South Dakota. 

Other states, such as Mississippi, require the attorney general to first confirm that the court has changed the legal framework. 

Texas and Tennessee have set a period of 30 days between the release of the judgment and a new ban coming into force. 

The states differ in how they ban abortions. Idaho provides exceptions for rape or incest but Kentucky only does so if the pregnant woman's life is in danger.

Laws in Louisiana could see health professionals jailed for up to ten years for carrying out abortions. In Missouri, it's 15 years.

- Restrictions -

Iowa, Georgia, Ohio and South Carolina are among states that have passed laws restricting abortion after six weeks of pregnancy, before many women even know they are expecting.

The laws have been blocked in the courts, but a federal judge in Ohio gaveled it into law Friday. Similarly, other laws could also take effect soon.

- Complex patchwork -

Ten states, including Arizona and Michigan, have pre-1973 laws banning abortion on the books that they could theoretically revive, though their path forward is uncertain.

In Wisconsin -- where the Democratic governor supports abortion rights, but the majority Republican lawmakers do not -- Planned Parenthood has said it does not plan to carry out abortions from the end of June, citing a legal risk.

In Michigan, Democratic Attorney General Dana Nessel has added to the confusion by promising not to prosecute people who violate its 1931 law banning abortion.

But local prosecutors will still be able to do so, and the state risks becoming a complex patchwork of laws.

In Arizona, Republican Governor Doug Ducey believes that a law passed this year to ban abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy will override previous rules. 

Senators in his party do not see it that way and Ducey is expected to go to court to get clarity.

- Others to watch -

According to the Guttmacher Institute, four states have signaled that they are unfavorable to abortion but do not currently have laws prohibiting it.

Lawmakers in Nebraska and Indiana have failed to pass abortion bans. Officials in Montana and Florida have reduced deadlines for terminating a pregnancy, but supreme courts in those states have protected the right to abortion

- Liberal states -

Twenty-two states -- mostly in the northeast and on the West Coast -- will retain the right to abortion and are preparing for an influx of women seeking abortions.

Connecticut and Delaware, for example, have expanded the categories of professionals who are authorized to carry out abortions to include nurses and midwives.

Lawmakers in California have allocated $152 million to assist access to abortion and the governor of New York has pledged $35 million.


Agence France-Presse is an international news agency.