The Supreme Court’s decision Friday to overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade decision ended nearly 50 years of federal abortion rights across the US — and validated expectations sparked by the leak of a draft opinion last month.
The hot-button issue of abortion has long sparked overheated rhetoric and passions ran especially high in the weeks leading to the high court’s ruling, with a California man busted June 8 in an attempt to assassinate Justice Brent Kavanaugh, allegedly because he was angered in part by the leaked draft.
Here are answers to questions about the impact of Friday’s decision:
What does overturning Roe v. Wade mean?
The 1973 ruling in Roe v. Wade established a constitutional right to abortion under the “due process” clause of the 14th Amendment, which the court previously said includes a right to privacy.
Friday’s ruling means that right no longer exists on a national level and returns the question of laws governing abortion to the states.
Which states will ban abortions?
A majority of states — 26, mostly in the southern and central parts of the country — were expected to ban or restrict abortions if Roe v. Wade were overturned.
They include 22 that previously banned abortions or have measures in place to impose new restrictions if possible.
Those states are Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming.
Four other states — Florida, Indiana, Montana and Nebraska — were also expected to act as soon as possible, according to research by the nonprofit Guttmacher Institute, which advocates for abortion rights.
What are trigger laws?
So-called trigger laws are legal measures to ban or restrict abortions that would take effect automatically or with little effort upon Roe v. Wade’s overturn.
Thirteen states — Arkansas, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and Wyoming — enacted trigger laws ahead of Friday’s ruling, according to the Guttmacher Institute.
Has the Supreme Court ever reversed itself before?
The concept of legal precedent, in which judges follow earlier ruling when deciding cases, is deeply rooted in the American justice system.
But a chart posted on the congressional “Constitution Annotated” website lists 233 rulings, dating to 1810, in which the Supreme Court overturned its own, previous decisions.
In a 1991 opinion, then-Chief Justice William Rehnquist wrote that following legal precedent — also known by the Latin term “stare decisis” — “is a principle of policy and not a mechanical formula of adherence to the latest decision.”
Justice Samuel Alito, who wrote Friday’s 6-3 majority decision overturning Roe v. Wade, also said during his 2006 confirmation, “I personally would not get into categorizing precedents as super precedents or super-duper precedents.”
Did Roe v. Wade stop women from dying as a result of abortions?
Shortly after Alito’s draft opinion was published by Politico, the progressive group Occupy Democrats posted a photo of a lawn sign that said, “Roe wasn’t the beginning of women having abortions — Roe was the end of women dying from abortions.”
But the message on the viral image had already been debunked by the Politifact website after Occupy Democrats posted it previously in October.
Politifact cited studies that found the advent of antibiotics and birth control pills made abortion-related deaths of women rare even before Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973, declining from thousands during the 1930s to just 63 in 1972, when 24 resulted from legal abortions and 39 from legal abortions.
Data published by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2020 show that the total number of women who died from abortions, both legal and illegal, has since ranged from 47 in 1973 to two in 2011 and 2017, the latest year for which figures were included.
Occupy Democrats added a correction to its May 9 post, noting, “Fact checkers at Politifact have rated this as false” and adding a link to Politifact’s Oct. 13 report.