What Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision means for abortion

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What Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision means for abortion

News that the US Supreme Court is on the verge of overturning the landmark Roe v. Wade abortion ruling is raising many questions about the implications of such a momentous decision and exactly how we got to this point in legal history.

The draft document, which was leaked to Politico and revealed late Monday, says a majority of the Supreme Court is now prepared to overrule the Roe case, which legalized abortion nationwide nearly 50 years ago.

Here’s a rundown on the background of the ruling and what effect such a decision could have on abortion rights across the country:

What is Roe v. Wade?

The historic Roe v. Wade decision from 1973 legalized the right to have an abortion up until the point when a fetus can survive outside the womb — roughly 24 weeks.

Participants hold signs during the Women's March "Hold The Line For Abortion Justice" at the U.S. Supreme Court on Dec. 1, 2021.
Participants hold signs during the Women’s March “Hold The Line For Abortion Justice” at the U.S. Supreme Court on Dec. 1, 2021.
Leigh Vogel/Getty Images

Under the high court ruling, states have been able to regulate, but not ban, abortion before the point of viability.

What does leaked SCOTUS draft opinion say?

The leaked draft opinion says that a majority of the Supreme Court is prepared to overrule the landmark Roe v. Wade decision.

The opinion states there is no constitutional right to abortion and argues that “Roe was egregiously wrong from the start.”

If the court does what the draft suggests, it would give states the power to decide whether to ban or heavily regulate abortions going forward.

The draft document, which was revealed late Monday, says a majority of the Supreme Court is now prepared to overrule the Roe case.
The draft document, which was revealed late Monday, says a majority of the Supreme Court is now prepared to overrule the Roe case.
Erin Schaff/Pool via Getty Images

The draft opinion rejects both Roe v. Wade and the subsequent Planned Parenthood v. Casey decision in 1992, which reaffirmed the Roe ruling.

“We hold that Roe and Casey must be overruled,” the opinion says. “It is time to heed the Constitution and return the issue of abortion to the people’s elected representatives.”

Why is this all happening now?

The leaked document — labeled a “1st Draft” of the “Opinion of the Court” — is dated from February and was written by Justice Samuel Alito, a member of the court’s 6-3 conservative majority who was appointed by former President George W. Bush.

The document appears to be based on an oral argument heard in December regarding Mississippi’s bid to revive its ban on abortion after 15 weeks.

The draft opinion suggests that when the Supreme Court justices met privately soon after hearing arguments in the Mississippi case on Dec. 1, at least five voted to overrule Roe and Casey.

Norma McCorvey, a.k.a. Jane Roe, holds hands with her attorney Gloria Allred outside the Supreme Court in 1989.
Norma McCorvey, a.k.a. Jane Roe, holds hands with her attorney Gloria Allred outside the Supreme Court in 1989.
J. Scott Applewhite/AP

Alito was assigned to writing the court’s majority opinion.

The Supreme Court is expected to rule on the Mississippi case — known as Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization — before its term ends in late June or early July.

Votes and opinions in a case aren’t final until a decision is formally announced.

What does it mean if Roe v. Wade is overturned?

Twenty-six states are certain or likely to restrict abortion if Roe v. Wade is overturned, according to The Guttmacher Institute, a New York-based pro-choice rights think tank.

Of those, 22 states already have total, or near-total abortion restrictions that would kick in as soon as Roe v. Wade falls, including: , including: 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.

A demonstrator holds a sign during a protest outside the Supreme Court on May 3.
A demonstrator holds a sign during a protest outside the Supreme Court on May 3.
Evelyn Hockstein/REUTERS

Texas’ law banning abortion after six weeks was already allowed to go into effect by the Supreme Court due to the state’s unusual civil enforcement structure. Four more states are considered likely to quickly pass bans if Roe is overturned.

Meanwhile, 16 states — including New York — and the District of Columbia have protected access to abortion in state law.

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said Tuesday that people seeking abortions could head to the Empire State, tweeting: “For anyone who needs access to care, our state will welcome you with open arms. Abortion will always be safe & accessible in New York.”

Which Supreme Court justices are for overturning Roe v. Wade?

The leaked draft opinion was written by Justice Samuel Alito.
The leaked draft opinion was written by Justice Samuel Alito.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Justice Samuel Alito, as well as four other Republican-appointed justices – Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett — voted to overturn Roe v. Wade, sources told Politico.

Democratic-appointed justices – Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan — disagreed and were working dissents, according to the sources.

It wasn’t clear how Chief Justice John Roberts, who was appointed by President George W. Bush, would vote.

Who leaked the the draft decision?

The draft opinion was leaked by a person familiar with proceedings in the Mississippi case, according to Politico.

Chief Justice John Roberts on Tuesday ordered an investigation into the unprecedented leak, calling it “egregious breach of trust.”

“Although the document described in yesterday’s reports is authentic, it does not represent a decision by the Court or the final position of any member on the issues in the case,” Roberts said in a statement.

He added: “I have directed the Marshal of the Court to launch an investigation into the source of the leak.”

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