The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday overturned its landmark decision Roe v. Wade that for nearly 50 years has secured the federal right to obtain an abortion — now roughly half of U.S. states will ban or curtail the procedure.
In a 6-3 decision, the court’s conservative majority struck down the 1973 case holding that states, rather than the federal government, are vested with authority to regulate abortion. As a result, states are free to restrict, and even outlaw, abortion. The case also struck down a 1992 case, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, that affirmed the right to obtain an abortion up until about 24 weeks of pregnancy.
Justice Samuel Alito wrote for the majority in the case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which upheld the state of Mississippi's abortion ban after 15 weeks of pregnancy and was signed by Justices Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett. Thomas and Kavanaugh filed concurring opinions, and Chief Justice John Roberts filed a concurring opinion.
"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 in which the defenders of Roe and Casey now chiefly rely — the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment," Alito wrote.
Consigning women to 'second-class citizenship'
The court's liberal wing — Justices Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor, and Stephen Breyer — filed a dissent asserting that the majority's opinion would lead to "the curtailment of women's rights, and their status as free and equal citizens."
That dissent contends that the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause — which confers a right to privacy — should protect the right to an abortion even if that wasn't the founders' original intent.
"Those responsible for the original Constitution, including the Fourteenth Amendment, did not perceive women as equals, and did not recognize women's rights," the liberal justices wrote. "When the majority says that we must read our foundational charter as viewed at the time of ratification (except that we must also check it against the Dark Ages) it consigns women to second-class citizenship."
The court’s about-face solidifies an immediate shift in reproductive options for people who live in states seeking to restrict access to legal abortion.
According to the pro-choice research institute, Guttmacher Institute, as of April this year, laws in 26 states stood to either limit access to legal abortion or fail to protect it in the event that Roe was overturned — 22 of which they say have constitutional amendments or laws in place making them certain to attempt bans.
Thirteen states adopted “trigger” laws prior to the court’s decision. The laws, more restrictive than Roe, ban abortion earlier in a pregnancy and are designed to take effect in the event that the court overturned the seminal case.
Under Roe, the high court held that personal privacy guaranteed by the Constitution's 14th Amendment Due Process Clause included a right to decide whether to give birth. That right, the court held, extended up until the unborn child became "viable" or capable of sustaining meaningful life outside of the womb.
The court’s decision to withdraw the right to abortion up until viability has been anticipated since the first week in May when a rare leak allowed Politico to obtain a draft of Alito’s majority opinion.
The highly charged and personal debate has also spilled over into the corporate sphere.
Both before and after the leak, dozens of U.S. companies affirmed or reaffirmed employee benefits that allow workers states with laws more restrictive than Roe to access abortion care. Those benefits include reimbursement for travel expenses incurred to obtain abortion care that is legally unavailable within an employee’s home state, as well as moving expenses for employees to relocate to states without limitations exceeding those under Roe.
More U.S. companies are expected to take a public position on the matter.
Alexis Keenan is a legal reporter for Yahoo Finance. Follow Alexis on Twitter @alexiskweed.