The Supreme Court Overturns Roe v. Wade
In the morning of June 24, 2022, the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, effectively retracting federal protection over the right to abortion. The case between the Mississippi Health Department and the Jackson Women’s Health Organization. The case upheld that the Mississippi 15 week abortion ban was constitutional gutting Roe, and starting a chain reaction of abortion bans across the U.S.
Back in early May, Samuel Alito, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, wrote a majority opinion draft that was leaked to the press and published by Politico. The document showed the Supreme Court’s intent to rule in favor of Dobbs, going against precedent and overturning Roe v. Wade, a landmark case decided in 1973, which upheld the constitutional right to abortion in the U.S. when it was reaffirmed in 1992 in the case Planned Parenthood v. Casey.
Alito’s opinion states, “We hold that Roe and Casey must be overruled. The Constitution makes no reference to abortion, and no such right is implicitly protected by any constitutional provision, including the one on which the defenders of Roe and Casey now chiefly rely—the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment”, this section of the ruling foreshadows many of the fears of what the future may hold.
While the constitution may not hold any specific provision regarding abortion, at the time when the U.S. Constitution was written, there were no laws regarding abortion. Many historians of the era agree that abortion was “not prosecuted or condemned up to the point of quickening—the point in which a pregnant woman could feel the fetus’ first kicks and movements.” Until the mid-19th century, what we consider early induced abortion today wasn’t even called an abortion then.
Women who did not want to be pregnant had several options available to them, including herbal concoctions that could be self-administered to “cause menstruation.” Pregnant women could consult a midwife or head to a local drugstore; however, the decision to end a pregnancy was mostly a private one.
Lack of contraception, the cultural stigma against having a child outside of marriage, and the dangers of childbirth at the time meant it was not uncommon to choose to terminate one’s own pregnancy. Some estimate that 20-35% of all pregnancies were terminated in what we now would consider early induced abortions.
The constitution does not have any reference to abortion because there was no need to reference abortion at that time. The language and narratives that exist around abortion today were non-existent at the founding of the country. And even still, it does not mean that abortion should not be protected by the law.
Most anti-abortion laws came about in the 1860s when a coalition of white male doctors with the support of the Catholic Church and other groups began to push legislators to enact abortion bans. Abortion was nationally banned in 1910. However, underground abortion services continued due to lack of regulation, and many women risked complications or died from botched abortions. When abortion was legalized in the 1970s following Roe v. Wade, there was still the issue of access. Despite this, the ability to receive an abortion from a trained doctor or medical provider hugely lowered the risks.