By Miriam Raftery
Photo: Pro-choice demonstrators tonight at Waterfront Park in San Diego, by Josan Feathers
June 24, 2022 (Washington D.C.) – Ending a half century of women’s rights to end a pregnancy, the U.S. Supreme Court today issued a ruling overturning the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.
That means abortion becomes illegal in 26 states immediately due to trigger laws or older statutes on the books, many banning abortion even to save a mother’s life or prevent a rape or incest victim from being forced to give birth. More states are poised to consider banning or restricting abortion, while Republican leaders have pledged to seek a nationwide abortion ban if they regain control of Congress in November.
Today’s decision has sparked protests nationwide, including thousands protesting outside the Supreme Court and justices’ homes this evening, as well as a large crowd gathered in San Diego outside the County adminstration building at Waterfront Park.
Republican-appointed justices pen majority opinion
Justice Alito wrote the majority opinion, joined by Justice Clarence Thomas and three Trump appointees – Justices Amy Coney Barrett, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh – all of whom stated in their confirmation hearings that they would respect Roe v. Wade as settled law. The decision to revert back to states determine abortion rights was 5-4.
Alito wrote that prior court rulings upholding Roe, which included many Republican-appointed justices, were “egregiously wrong.” Alito made clear that in any future challenges to state laws restricting abortion, such laws would be presumed valid if they serve any “legitimate state interest” including “preservation of prenatal life at all stages of development,” meaning from the moment of conception.
Justice Thomas calls for outlawing birth control and gay rights next
Justice Clarence Thomas went even further, suggesting the privacy clause previously found to protect abortion access and other rights doesn’t exist and that the same rationale could be applied to overturn other landmark cases including those that legalized the right to birth control for married couples, decriminalized homosexuality, and legalized same-sex marriages. He cited the cases by name, stating his view that “in futur5e cases, we should reconsider all” of those precedents as “erroneous.”
Chief Justice sought more narrow ruling
Chief Justice John Roberts voted in favor of a more narrow decision in the case before the court, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, allowing Mississippi to ban abortions after 15 weeks, a 6-3 ruling, though Roberts voted against overturning Roe v. Wade.
Democratic-appointed Justices voice “sorrow” at majority’s decision
Dissenting sharply were the court’s only justices appointed by Democratic Presidents: Elena Kagan, Stephen Breyer, and Sonia Sotomayor. The dissenters voiced “sorrow” that “you women today will come of age with fewer rights than their mothers and grandmothers,’” adding that the majority’s decision means “from the very moment of fertilization, a woman has no rights to speak of. A state can force her to bring a pregnancy to term even at the steepest personal and familial costs.”
Reactions to the ruling from pro-life and pro-choice groups
Anti-abortion groups celebrated the decision and pledged to seek even more restrictions. Sue Liebel, state policy director of the Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America organization, says her group has been talking to officials in Republican-led states about “acting immediately” to prohibit abortions or impose more severe restrictions, NPR reports. Besides states banning abortion outright, many others have imposed or are poised to impose restrictions such as parental consent, waiting periods, or bans on abortion after a certain number of weeks into a pregnancy.
Olivieri Hovis, California director of the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL) called the decision “unconscionable.” In a press statement today, she said, “This decision will harm millions of people by allowing extremist politicians to push abortion care out of reach. However, our fight for reproductive freedom is far from over, and there is no doubt that this decision will galvanize voters in California and across the country.” She urged voters to election pro-choice candidates in all state and federal elections.
East County’s Congressional representatives speak out: Issa supports ban, Jacobs oposes
Congressman Darrell Issa, a Republican who earlier signed an amicus brief asking the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade, tweeted that he views today as “a great day for the cause and principle of life. The Supreme court upheld its core obligation to discharge its duties faithfully and impartially. I will always stand for life. And I will always support and defend our Constitution.”
But Congresswoman Sara Jacobs, a Democrat, says, “This decision is outrageous and has dangerous and far-reaching implications for Americans’ right to privacy and bodily autonomy. “We cannot let this stand. Congress needs to codify the rights to an abortion, and we need to do everything in our power to immediately protect the individuals at risk in the states where the right to make our own decisions about our own bodies is criminalized.”
The House has already passed a bill that would protect abortion rights nationally, but it has little chance of passing the Senate, where Republicans have enough votes to block the bill with a filibuster.
California protects rights – for now
Abortion remains legal in California, for now. But it could become illegal even in liberal California if Republicans regain control of Congress and pass a nationwide ban, or if a future Supreme Court ruling determines life begins at conception, a concept being pushed in other legal challenges. It could also become illegal if a future state legislature were to ban or restrict abortions.
To protect against the latter, the state Legislature has passed a constitutional amendment that will give California voters the opportunity to approve or reject adding abortion rights to the state’s constitution on a ballot measure this November.
Governor Gavin Newsom today signed a bill protecting medical providers from liability if they provide abortions for people who have traveled across state lines for the procedure.
California Senator Alex Padilla denounced the decision, adding, “It also jeopardizes other fundamental civil rights, like the right to marry who you love, the right to privacy, and the right to access contraception.”
State Senate President Toni Atkins of San Diego stated, “With this ruling, the Supreme Court has turned its back on safety and equality. But in California, those values remain firmly rooted.” She added that here, pregnant individuals and their families will remain “entitled to dignity, understanding, and reproductive choice.”
President Biden weighs in
President Joe Biden noted that the court took away a constitutional right, rather than uphold or limit reproductive rights. “That’s never been done to a right so important to so many Americans,” he said, adding, “The health and life of women in this nation are now at risk.”
Biden noted that the Roe v. Wade decision in 1983 was a 7-2 ruling written by a justice appointed by Republican Richard Nixon and that in the past 50 years, justices appointed by Republicans Dwight Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan, and George H.W. Bush all voted to uphold the Roe decision.
The President denounced the “extreme” ruling allowing states to criminalize doctors and force women and girls to bear even children conceived in rape or incest. He noted that poor women will be hit hardest, adding, “It’s cruel.”
He made clear that he does not have the power to protect women’s rights to abortion by executive action. “The only way we can secure a woman’s right to choose…is for Congress to restore the protections of Roe v. Wade as federal law,” Biden said, but noted that Congress appears to lack the votes to do so right now. “Voters need to make their voices heard,” he said. “This fall, Roe is on the ballot. Personal freedoms are on the ballot. The right to privacy, liberty, equality – they’re all on the ballot.”
Until then, he pledged, “I will do all in my power to protect a woman’s right in states where they will face the consequences of today’s decision.”
The Attorney General has pledged to defend a woman’s right to travel to access abortion. Biden today directed the Dept. of Health and Human Services to ensure that women’s access to FDA-approved medications to end early-stage pregnancies and treat miscarriages, noting that both the American Medical Association and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists have asked that access to the medications be protected, or “maternal mortality will climb in America.”
With Americans taking to the streets to protest or support the decision, Biden added, “I call on everyone, no matter how deeply they care about this decision, to keep all protests peaceful.”