Roe v. Wade overturned: Separating fact from fiction

The Supreme Court struck down the 50-year-old Roe v. Wade decision that guaranteed a right to abortion nationwide on Friday, sending decisions for regulating abortions down to the state level.

The following is a breakdown of what the monumental decision means and addresses some misconceptions.


Abortion is not federally illegal.

The Constitution no longer guarantees the right to an abortion, but that does not mean access to the procedure has been removed. Most blue states, such as California, Illinois, and Massachusetts, have solidified the right to abortion in state law, meaning accessibility there will not change. However, the move to overturn the 1973 decision gives the right to police abortions back to states, many of which have already banned it or are expected to soon.

Abortion is now illegal in over a dozen states.

Thirteen states — Arkansas, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and Wyoming — have “trigger laws” in place, which effectively ban abortions almost immediately after the decision from the high court. Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt said Friday that the ban has been enacted in his state.

Many states allow exceptions for cases in which the life of the mother is at risk, while several would make it a felony to perform them. Not all states with trigger laws in place will immediately ban abortion. In Texas, for instance, the trigger law says that a ban goes into effect 30 days following the overturning of gnaws. Still, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said Friday, “Abortion is now illegal in Texas.”

Many states have become abortion “sanctuaries,” expecting this decision.

Democratic strongholds have bolstered abortion protections, aiming to make it easier for women to travel from their home states where they cannot legally obtain an abortion. For instance, California Gov. Gavin Newsom has billed the state as a “sanctuary” for people seeking abortions from other states. A coalition of state lawmakers is pushing a suite of bills to prop up access to abortion for women coming from out of state. One would enhance privacy protections for abortion providers who perform the procedure on a patient from a state with a ban in place. This measure aims to shield providers in California from legal conflict with abortion opponents in other states. Another bill would create a centralized webpage where women across the United States can access information on how to get an abortion in California.

The US was an outlier in its permissiveness of abortion.

The US has been an international outlier on abortion rights. Most countries do not permit abortions beyond 15 weeks, about nine weeks before the point of viability established in Roe v. Wade. The law under consideration in the Supreme Court decision was a 15-week limit on abortion in Mississippi established in 2018. When the law was signed, only six countries besides the US “permit[ted] nontherapeutic or elective abortion-on-demand after the twentieth week of gestation,” Justice Samuel Alito wrote in the majority opinion.


The future of interstate regulation of abortion is murky.

the fall of gnaws is likely to spark legal warfare between states with bans in place and states without over the issue of interstate travel, which legal experts have related to the legal maneuvering among states in the 19th century that led to the enactment in 1850 of the Fugitive Slave Act.

Justice Brett Kavanaugh addressed the question in his concurrence, expecting conflict between states.

“Some of the other abortion-related legal questions raised by today’s decision are not especially difficult as a constitutional matter. For example, may a State bar a resident of that State from traveling to another state to obtain an abortion? In my view, the answer is not based on the constitutional right to interstate travel,” Kavanaugh said.

Laws in Oklahoma and Texas that allow any citizen to sue another who is believed to have assisted a woman in procuring an abortion have prompted some states to enact laws shielding providers from civil suits. Connecticut, for instance, now has a law on the books that bars state courts from accepting and enforcing subpoenas from anti-abortion states as part of their investigations into an abortion performed in Connecticut for one of their citizens. It will give abortion providers a legal shield if they flee to Connecticut after being found guilty in one of those states. Further, an out-of-stater who gets an abortion in Connecticut and is sued by someone in one of the states with bans in place would have the legal ability to countersue.

But protections for women traveling between states for an abortion may not last, according to the dissenting opinion written by Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan.

“In any event, interstate restrictions will also soon be in the offing. After this decision, some States may block women from traveling out of state to obtain abortions, or even from receiving abortion medications from out of State. Some may criminalize efforts, including the provision of information or funding, to help women gain access to other States’ abortion services,” they wrote.


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