A 1973 abortion ruling by the Supreme Court is still considered a landmark today. Now it’s history. President Joe Biden is dismayed.
After nearly half a century, the US Supreme Court overturned liberal abortion laws in the United States. The far-reaching decision has serious consequences for pregnant women in the country.
The mostly conservative Supreme Court in Washington cleared the way for stricter abortion laws on Friday – up to and including complete bans in individual states. US President Joe Biden called the decision a “tragic mistake”. Some fear that same-sex marriage or the right to contraception could also come under scrutiny in the future.
With the decision of the court, the previous right to abortion from 1973 in the USA is history. The verdict is considered a political earthquake – massive protests are expected. In about half of the states, there are now likely to be extensive restrictions, including bans on abortion. “The constitution does not grant the right to an abortion,” the verdict says. The decision is not a surprise: a draft was made public at the beginning of May. It was already clear from this that the court intends to decide in this way. The verdict is now as drastic as expected.
There is no federal law in the United States that allows or prohibits abortion. However, abortions are permitted at least until the fetus is viable – today around the 24th week. This has so far been ensured by a 1973 US Supreme Court ruling, known as Roe v. Wade is known. Another 1992 ruling, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, largely reinforced and amended the case law. The Supreme Court has now overturned these decisions.
Harsh words to the predecessors in court
Today’s conservative majority in the US Supreme Court did not hold back in scolding its predecessors. “Roe was terribly wrong from the day of his decision and on a collision course with the Constitution. Casey continued his mistakes,” the statement said. The “authority to regulate” abortion rights would now be returned to the people and their elected representatives – i.e. to the states. In Germany, abortion has not been punishable in the first twelve weeks since 1995 if the woman seeks advice beforehand.
In the United States, abortion rights have been the subject of heated debates time and again. Opponents have been trying to overturn the liberal rules for decades. But a court decision as drastic as the current one seemed impossible a few years ago. Under the previous President Donald Trump, the Supreme Court then moved significantly to the right. The Republican appointed Justices Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett during his tenure. They all voted to overturn abortion rights – along with Conservative Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito. However, Chief Justice John Roberts made it clear that he did not want to restrict the right to abortion to this drastic extent.
Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan and Justice Stephen Breyer voted against the decision. They are considered liberal. “After today, young women will grow up with fewer rights than their mothers and grandmothers had,” she said in her dissenting opinion. The majority decided without considering what it meant to deprive women of the right to have an abortion.
Just the beginning?
A statement by the ultra-conservative judge Clarence Thomas triggered great horror. He wrote that decisions enshrining the right to contraception, same-sex marriage, or sex between same-sex partners also deserve scrutiny. However, the remaining conservative judges emphasized that the current verdict does not call these precedents into question. With regard to Thomas, Biden warned of an “extreme” and “dangerous” path that the court was taking.
But why did the court deal with the subject at all? The background is an abortion law from the state of Mississippi, which prohibits almost all abortions after the 15th week of pregnancy – a law that was actually unconstitutional according to previous case law. The conservative-governed state had called on the Supreme Court to review the case. The fact that the court dealt with it at all had already been taken as a sign that Roe v. Wade could be tipped.
The decision now provides for states to leave it up to the states to regulate their abortion laws. This is considered particularly drastic. Some states have already prepared laws that can come into force immediately if the previous case law is overturned – so-called trigger laws. It is primarily the arch-conservative states in the South and Midwest that want to ban abortion completely or almost completely.
The law will not change in all states
Liberal states like New York or California, on the other hand, have laws that expressly protect the right to abortion. Nothing is likely to change in these states for the time being. For pregnant women, the decision means having to travel hundreds or even thousands of miles to reach an abortion clinic. Many cannot afford that. It is feared that more and more women will try to have an abortion themselves.
At the beginning of May, US President Biden’s Democrats tried to enshrine the right to abortion in law – but failed in the Senate. The vote was primarily symbolic. With their slim majority, the Democrats cannot easily pass such a law. In addition, there was not even unity within their own ranks. Biden can’t just restore abortion rights with a decree — he’s dependent on Congress.
Democrats hope for a majority
The Democrats hope to mobilize the issue for the US elections in November. They argue that a clear majority can pass a law that enshrines the right to abortion in law. According to surveys, however, they are likely to lose their majority. Only a minority of the US public polled in favor of Roe v. calf is tilted. According to the Gallup Institute, since the 1970s a majority has supported the right to abortion – with restrictions or under all circumstances.
Some states such as Texas had recently overturned it through a civil law detour. The law there prohibits all abortions once the fetal heartbeat has been determined. This can happen as early as the sixth week of pregnancy. What is unusual about the law is that it allows private individuals to take civil action against anyone who assists with an abortion. This legal trick also makes it particularly difficult to challenge the law in court.