The Supreme Court on Friday struck down the landmark court decision Roe v. Wade, ending the constitutional right to abortion and potentially signaling an end to legal abortion in more than half of the U.S.
Justice Samuel Alito, writing in the majority, called Roe “egregiously wrong and deeply damaging.”
The decision ends almost a half century of federal protection for abortion initially established in 1973 through Roe and maintained again in 1992 through Planned Parenthood v. Casey. The vote pushes the issue of abortion back to the states.
As it currently stands, 26 states are deemed certain or likely to end abortion rights, making abortion effectively illegal in half of the country, according to the Guttmacher Institute. Of those 26 states, 13 of them — Arkansas, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and Wyoming — will automatically ban abortions through already-established “trigger laws.”
The vote strayed from the majority draft opinion, leaked in early May to Politico, a first in modern history for the Court. Justices Alito, Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, John Roberts and Amy Coney Barrett ruled in favor of overturning Roe.
The decision upholds a Mississippi law criminalizing abortion after 15 weeks in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. The law served as a direct challenge to Roe and Casey by criminalizing abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy, contradicting the court’s precedent that allowed abortion up to “fetal viability,” or 28 weeks of pregnancy. Jackson Women’s Health, the only abortion provider in the state, filed the suit in 2020.
Conservative justices signaled they were ready to overturn Roe in December 2021, when the court heard oral arguments for Dobbs. Some justices, such as Sonia Sotomayor, suggested that the court would appear highly politicized if it overturned Roe.
“Will this institution survive the stench that this creates in the public perception that the Constitution and its reading are just political acts?” she asked during oral arguments. “I don’t see how it is possible.”
A little over a year after the initial filing, Texas passed a law banning abortion after six weeks of pregnancy, nine weeks before the abortion timeline proposed in Dobbs. The law was designed to evade judicial review by creating a unique policing system that allowed citizens to sue anyone who “aids and abets” a prohibited abortion.
In January, the Supreme Court declined to challenge the Texas law. Soon after, Idaho passed an abortion ban modeled after the new Texas law. In late May, Oklahoma passed a law that effectively banned almost all abortions with few exceptions.
Amid signals that Roe v. Wade would be overturned, some lawmakers scrambled to codify abortion rights in Congress in the wake of the Texas law and the leaked draft opinion.
However, the measure — the Women’s Health Protection Act of 2022 — failed to gather a simple majority in the Senate in May. The bill failed in a 49-51 vote with Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia joining all Republicans in voting against it, mirroring a similar failed abortion bill proposed in February.
The final ruling follows months of national tension and activism from abortion-rights advocates who took to the streets en mass following the leaked majority draft decision. In mid-May, thousands marched across the U.S. and at the steps of the Supreme Court to champion anti-abortion and abortion-rights causes.
Women supporting abortion rights wielded coat hangers and donned red robes and white hats, emulating characters from the book and television show “The Handmaid’s Tale,” while anti-abortion protesters held signs and megaphones.
Tension came to a head on June 9 when a man brandishing a pistol, knife and other weapons showed up at Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s house in an attempt to kill him. The man cited the court’s leaked abortion draft opinion as one of his tenets of frustration. Days later, the House passed a bill providing extra security to the families of justices.
It’s unclear immediately what will happen to abortion clinics and providers following Roe’s overturning. Providers are planning for administrative chaos. Some are preparing for a surge of patients seeking abortions in states where procedures are likely to remain legal. Others are bracing for violence and protests.