By Katie Yoder and Shannon Mullen
The Supreme Court has overturned Roe v. Wade in a historic decision released Friday that brings a sudden and dramatic end to nearly a half-century of nationwide legalized abortion in the U.S.
The opinion, in the Mississippi abortion case Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, is widely seen as the Supreme Court’s most highly anticipated and consequential ruling since Roe. It not only overturns Roe, the landmark 1973 abortion case, but also Casey v. Planned Parenthood, a 1992 decision that affirmed Roe.
“Abortion presents a profound moral question. The Constitution does not prohibit the citizens of each State from regulating or prohibiting abortion. Roe and Casey arrogated that authority,” the opinion states. “We now overrule these decisions and return that authority to the people and their elected representatives.”
The Dobbs opinion was written by Associate Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. Associate Justices Clarence Thomas, Neil M. Gorsuch, Brett M. Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett joined the opinion. Chief Justice John Roberts filed an opinion concurring in the judgment. Associate justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan dissented.
The decision does not ban or criminalize abortion, nor does it recognize an unborn child’s constitutional right to life. But in one, breathtaking stroke, the court’s action sweeps away entrenched legal barriers, created and strictly enforced by the federal judiciary, that for decades have blocked states like Mississippi from heavily restricting or prohibiting the killing of unborn children in the womb.
In the process, the decision ushers in a new era of abortion politics in the U.S., with the battleground now shifting to state legislatures. Those democratically elected bodies are now free to debate and regulate abortion as they see fit, as happened throughout American history before the Supreme Court federalized the issue.
At the same time, the ruling marks a watershed moment for the Catholic Church and the wider pro-life movement in the United States, which have painstakingly sought Roe’s reversal since the landmark 7-2 decision was handed down on Jan. 19, 1973.
“America was founded on the truth that all men and women are created equal, with God-given rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles and Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore said in a joint statement following the opinion’s release.
“This truth was grievously denied by the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade ruling, which legalized and normalized the taking of innocent human life,” the Catholic bishops continued. “We thank God today that the Court has now overturned this decision.” Gomez is president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), and Lori is chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Pro-Life Activities.
“Today’s decision is also the fruit of the prayers, sacrifices, and advocacy of countless ordinary Americans from every walk of life. Over these long years, millions of our fellow citizens have worked together peacefully to educate and persuade their neighbors about the injustice of abortion, to offer care and counseling to women, and to work for alternatives to abortion, including adoption, foster care, and public policies that truly support families,” the statement continued.
“We share their joy today and we are grateful to them. Their work for the cause of life reflects all that is good in our democracy, and the pro-life movement deserves to be numbered among the great movements for social change and civil rights in our nation’s history.”
Decision conforms to leaked draft
The outcome of Dobbs came as little surprise, since the final opinion substantially resembled a draft written by Alito in February that was leaked to the press on May 2.
In Roe v. Wade, the court ruled that states could not ban abortion before viability, which the court determined to be 24 to 28 weeks into pregnancy. Nearly 20 years later, the court upheld Roe in Planned Parenthood v. Casey. The 1992 ruling said that while states could regulate pre-viability abortions, they could not enforce an “undue burden,” defined by the court as “a substantial obstacle in the path of a woman seeking an abortion of a nonviable fetus.”
Mississippi’s Gestational Age Act, the subject of the Dobbs case, directly challenged both decisions, because it bans abortion weeks after 15 weeks, well before the point of viability.
“Roe was egregiously wrong from the start. Its reasoning was exceptionally weak, and the decision has had damaging consequences. And far from bringing about a national settlement of the abortion issue, Roe and Casey have inflamed debate and deepened division,” the opinion states.
“It is time to heed the Constitution and return the issue of abortion to the people’s elected representatives,” the opinion states.