The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) reversed the Constitutional right of American women to have an abortion in a 6-3 majority vote, leading dissenting justices to warn that other rights, including the right to use contraception, may be at risk.
The judgment was handed down officially on Friday, and it effectively overturns the Supreme Court's ruling in the 1973 Roe v. Wade case, which for 50 years had served as the precedent-setting case for women's right to an abortion. The latest ruling will allow individual US states to determine their disparate stances and law on the issue.
According to reports, at least 13 states have so-called trigger laws that shall automatically activate to outlaw abortion. Close to half of US states are expected to likewise pass legislation that would significantly curtail women's access to abortion, with some states being expected to implement stiff bans which preclude the procedure even in the case of rape or incest.
Historical Roots Argument
The Supreme Court majority weighed several arguments, one of which included a look at abortion's historical roots in the country. The majority, for its part, wrote:
"The Court finds that the right to abortion is not deeply rooted in the Nation’s history and tradition. [...] Until the latter part of the 20th century, there was no support in American law for a constitutional right to obtain an abortion. No state constitutional provision had recognized such a right. Until a few years before Roe, no federal or state court had recognized such a right."
On this argument, the dissenting justices have sounded the following caution:
"The lone rationale for what the majority does today is that the right to elect an abortion is not 'deeply rooted in history:' Not until Roe, the majority argues, did people think abortion fell within the Constitution’s guarantee of liberty.
"The same could be said, though, of most of the rights the majority claims it is not tampering with. The majority could write just as long an opinion showing, for example, that until the mid-20th century, 'there was no support in American law for a constitutional right to obtain [contraceptives].”
"So one of two things must be true. Either the majority does not really believe in its own reasoning. Or if it does, all rights that have no history stretching back to the mid19th century are insecure. Either the mass of the majority’s opinion is hypocrisy, or additional constitutional rights are under threat. It is one or the other."
Additionally, the minority underscored that the majority's decision is based on the reasoning that existed in 1868 when the Fourteenth Amendment was enacted. The three dissenters explained:
"In 1868, the first wave of American feminists were explicitly told—of course by men—that it was not their time to seek constitutional protections. (Women would not get even the vote for another half-century.) ... Those responsible for the original Constitution, including the Fourteenth Amendment, did not perceive women as equals, and did not recognize women’s rights.
"When the majority says that we must read our foundational charter as viewed at the time of ratification (except that we may also check it against the Dark Ages), it consigns women to second-class citizenship."
The dissenting justices also admonished the majority for tinkering with stare decisis, a foundational principle in common law that gives preeminence to precedent set, which is a means of promoting judicial stability and integrity in decision making. As the minority justices reminded, stare decisis shields the justice system from individual preferences and "proclivities."
"The Court reverses course today for one reason and one reason only: because the composition of this Court has changed," the dissenting justices wrote. "Stare decisis, this Court has often said, 'contributes to the actual and perceived integrity of the judicial process' by ensuring that decisions are 'founded in the law rather than in the proclivities of individuals.' ... Today, the proclivities of individuals rule. The Court departs from its obligation to faithfully and impartially apply the law. We dissent."
US President's Reaction to the Ruling
Shortly after the judgment was officially handed down, US President Joseph Biden spoke to the nation from the White House. "They [SCOTUS] didn’t limit it. They simply took it away," Biden lamented. "That’s never been done to a right so important to so many Americans."
Biden alerted that without the protections offered by Roe v Wade, the "health and life of women in this nation are now at risk."
The President expressed his concern at the fact the ruling does not provide any exceptions for women who were victims of rape or incest. "So extreme that women and girls who are forced to bear their rapist’s child. ... Imagine having — a young woman having to carry the child of incest — as a consequence of incest. No option."
Biden, however, explained that it is possible for Congress to pass laws to secure women's rights over their personal health.
"Let me be very clear and unambiguous: The only way we can secure a woman’s right to choose and the balance that existed is for Congress to restore the protections of Roe v. Wade as federal law," said the President. "No executive action from the President can do that. And if Congress, as it appears, lacks the vote — votes to do that now, voters need to make their voices heard."