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US top court overturns landmark abortion ruling

June 24, 2022

Tens of millions of women in the US might lose their right to an abortion after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. The landmark case had legalized abortion nationwide.

Protesters sit outside the U.S. Supreme Court after the leak of a draft majority opinion on abortion
A leak of the court's opinion sparked protests from people angered over a possible end to the right to abortion in the United StatesImage: Evelyn Hockstein/REUTERS

In a highly-anticipated move, the US Supreme Court moved to overturn protections on abortion rights in the US on Friday.

The ruling comes after a draft opinion of the court was leaked to US media in early May. The report showed the US Supreme Court was ready to reverse Roe v. Wade, a landmark decision in 1973 that established a federal right to terminate a pregnancy.

The seismic ruling leaves open the possibility of outlawing abortion in each US state. Tens of millions of women across the US are expected to lose their right to abortion as mainly southern and midwestern states introduce bans.

Just hours after the decision, the midwestern state of Missouri banned abortion, without exception, even for rape or incest.

South Dakota looked set to follow suit, with Republican Governor Kristi Noem releasing a statement saying abortion had become illegal in her state, "unless there is appropriate and reasonable medical judgment that performance of an abortion is necessary to preserve the life of the pregnant female."

What did the Supreme Court say?

"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," the court said, referring to the 1992 Planned Parenthood v Casey decision that affirmed abortion rights.

The original leaking of the draft opinion from Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito sparked nationwide protests, including outside of the residences of some of the more conservative members of the court.

Alito's vote to overturn the ruling was supported by four other conservative judges: Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett. The last three were appointed to the court by former Republic President Donald Trump.

The three dissenting justices, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, wrote that "with sorrow — for this court, but more, for the many millions of American women who have today lost a fundamental constitutional protection — we dissent."

It was a Mississippi law, introduced by state Republican lawmakers, to ban abortions after 15 weeks, that made its way to the court and set the justices up to scrap the protection for abortion rights throughout the country.

What is expected to happen next?

The overturning of Roe v. Wade means that the decision to legalize or ban abortions will be up to state legislatures. Until now, attempts to ban pregnancy terminations have been frequently blocked by courts citing the 1973 ruling.

Roughly half of the US states are expected to introduce bans on abortion with some having already implemented such measures.

Some 13 had already introduced bills in the expectation that Roe v. Wade would be overturned. Several other states have banned a termination procedure after just six weeks, by which time many women are still not aware that they are pregnant.

Following the leak of the Alito draft, President Joe Biden called on pro-choice lawmakers to craft legislature to enshrine abortion rights into law. But the bill was blocked in the Senate by all 50 Republican senators and one Democrat senator.

Opinion polls have shown that the majority of people in the US were in support of maintaining the ruling, putting the court at odds with the general public. Recent polling from Pew Research Center showed that around 60% of US adults were in favor of abortion being legal in all or most cases, against around 37% who said that it should be illegal in all or most cases.

Banning abortion has been a major mobilizer of support for the Republican Party from highly conservative Christian groups. For years, the party has been working to appoint conservative justices and blocking candidates chosen by former President Barack Obama, creating the conditions for the ruling to be annulled.

ab, rs/dj (AP, Reuters)