A majority in the Supreme Court has privately voted to overthrow Roe v. Wade, according to a leaked draft statement from February published by Politico. Here’s a look at the history of the landmark decision and the case from the Mississippi, which is now being decided by the court.
What is Roe v. Wade?
Roe v. Wade is a landmark Supreme Court ruling from 1973 that established a constitutional right to abortion.
Roe enacted laws that prevented abortion in several states, declaring that they could not ban the procedure until the time a fetus can survive outside the womb.
The point, known as fetal viability, was around 28 weeks when Roe was decided. Due to improvements in medicine, most experts now estimate fetal viability to be around 23 or 24 weeks.
The case is sometimes referred to in everyday speech simply as “Roe”, the plaintiff’s given name. It was actually a pseudonym for Norma McCorvey, who was 22 and pregnant when she became an advocate for abortion rights. She later joined the anti-abortion movement and revealed in a documentary months before her death that she had been paid to do so.
The name “Wade” refers to the defendant Henry Wade, who was the Dallas County District Attorney at the time.
Roe is a popular decision – opinion polls have consistently shown that a majority of Americans do not want the Supreme Court to overturn it.
What’s the Mississippi case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization?
The Mississippi case is centered on a state law that banned most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy and was intended to be a direct challenge for Roe. It was passed in 2018 by a Republican-dominated state legislature.
Mississippi’s last remaining abortion clinic, the Jackson Women’s Health Organization, sued the law, which banned abortions about two months earlier than Roe and later decisions allowed.
Due to an immediate legal challenge, the law did not enter into force. If that was the case, healthcare providers who violated it could have had their medical licenses suspended or revoked.
The Supreme Court appeared ready to uphold the Mississippi law after hearing arguments in December, though the Conservative majority at the time seemed to disagree on whether to proceed with overriding Roe altogether.
What is Planned Parenthood v. Casey?
Planned Parenthood v. Casey is another landmark Supreme Court ruling from 1992. It reaffirmed Roe’s central tenet – that women have a constitutional right to terminate their pregnancies until fetal viability.
What would it mean for access to abortion if Roe is overthrown?
More than half of U.S. states would likely or almost certainly ban abortion if the Supreme Court overthrew Roe, according to an analysis by the Guttmacher Institute, which was updated in April. That number includes several states that have enacted so-called trigger laws, which will automatically ban all abortions without Roe.
Depending on exactly how the court could formulate such a decision, access to legal abortion could actually end for those living in large parts of the American South and Midwest, especially those who are poor, according to a 2021 New York Times analysis A cascade of restrictive abortion laws has already been proposed in Republican-led states.
Another way to understand who will be most affected by overthrowing Roe is to consider who gets an abortion in the United States. The typical patient is already a mother, poor, unmarried, in her late 20s and very early in her pregnancy.
To overthrow Roe would further cement the status of the United States as a global outlier on abortion. According to the Center for Reproductive Rights, only three countries – Poland, El Salvador and Nicaragua – have tightened abortion laws since 1994.