WASHINGTON (CN) — Striking down the federal right to abortion, the Supreme Court overruled its landmark precedent in a 6-3 split on Friday.
“We hold that Roe and Casey must be overruled,” Justice Samuel Alito wrote for the majority, referring both to Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the case that reaffirmed abortion rights in 1992.
Key to the court's ruling Friday was its determination that the Constitution does not reference abortion, and that the right to abortion is also not protected in either the Due Process Clause or the 14th Amendment. Alito said overruling Roe follows the Constitution by returning the issue to the states.
“Roe was egregiously wrong from the start,” he wrote. “Its reasoning was exceptionally weak, and the decision has had damaging consequences. And far from bringing about a national settlement of the abortion issue, Roe and Casey have enflamed debate and deepened division.”
Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan dissented in a rare co-signed opinion.
“With sorrow — for this Court, but more, for the many millions of American women who have today lost a fundamental constitutional protection — we dissent," the three justices wrote.
The dissent says women’s rights will suffer because of Friday's decision.
“Whatever the exact scope of the coming laws, one result of today’s decision is certain: the curtailment of women’s rights, and of their status as free and equal citizens,” the Democrat-appointed justices wrote.
Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973 but saw its biggest challenge in decades when Mississippi tried to ban all abortions after 15 weeks. With a conservative supermajority on the Supreme Court following the Trump administration, reproductive rights advocates worried the conservative legal movement would finally succeed in their quest to squash abortion rights across the country.
The last abortion provider in Mississippi, Jackson Women’s Health Organization, has been fighting Mississippi’s Gestational Age Act since Republican Governor Phill Bryant signed the bill into law in 2018. A federal judge found the law unconstitutional, permanently enjoined it and called its defense in court a waste of taxpayer dollars. Abortion providers prevailed again when the Fifth Circuit affirmed in 2019, setting up a high-stakes battle at the high court.
The high court’s reversal of that decision looked to be a foregone conclusion, however, after it considered the case at oral arguments in December. Chief Justice John Roberts was the only conservative who seemed to want to salvage the 1973 precedent in favor of a more incremental change. The case demonstrated the power of the conservative supermajority that does not need Roberts’ influence to form a majority.
Solidifying expectations, an unprecedented leak of a draft version of Alito’s decision early last month sparked outrage and protests across the country.
Mississippi asked the court to overturn the precedent in July of 2021 but notably made no such request when it petitioned for the writ of certiorari June 2020. Between these two dates, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died and Justice Amy Coney Barrett was nominated and confirmed. Justice Sonia Sotomayor predicted at oral arguments five months later that overruling Roe would compromise the court's standing as an impartial body.
“Will this institution survive the stench that this creates in the public perception that the constitution and its reading are just political acts,” the Obama appointee asked. “I don't see how it is possible."
In the final opinion, Alito calls it time to “set the record straight” on Roe’s historical analysis, which was used to affirm the right to abortion in Casey. He points to common-law authorities from the 17th century when abortion was considered criminal.