Briefing

What happens now that Roe v. Wade has been overturned?

The Supreme Court on Friday voted 6-3 to overturn federal abortion rights as protected under 1973's landmark Roe v. Wade decision, bringing an end to nearly 50 years of precedent. Despite being somewhat expected, as per a draft majority opinion leaked back in May, the ruling immediately sparked a widespread firestorm of both celebration and condemnation. But what exactly happens now? Here's everything you need to know:

Back up — what did the opinion say?

The specific case before the court — Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization — pertained to a Mississippi law banning abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, much earlier than the fetal viability threshold established by Roe. In siding with Mississippi on Friday, writes The Wall Street Journal, the court's six conservative members deemed the Roe decision to be "egregiously wrong" and "an error the court perpetuated in the decades since."

"We hold that Roe and Casey must be overruled," the majority wrote in its opinion, referencing 1992's Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which was also struck down. "The Constitution makes no reference to abortion, and no such right is implicitly protected by any constitutional provision … Roe was egregiously wrong from the start. Its reasoning was exceptionally weak, and the decision has had damaging consequences."

"It is time to heed the Constitution and return the issue of abortion to the people's elected representatives," they added.

Dissenting Justices Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor, and Stephen Breyer just as potently rejected the majority's position. "With sorrow — for this court, but more, for the many millions of American women who have today lost a fundamental constitutional protection," the court's liberals wrote in their joint opinion: "We dissent."

Is abortion now illegal everywhere?

Not necessarily. In overruling Roe, the court has sent the issue of abortion back to the states, where its legality will be decided on an individual basis. Some states, like New York and California, have already codified the right to an abortion into law, and will be therefore largely unaffected by Friday's decision. But others, like South Dakota, Louisiana, and Kentucky, have laws that now immediately ban the procedure in Roe's absence. The same goes for Oklahoma and Texas. All make exceptions for the life of the mother.

Elsewhere, in Idaho, Utah, North Dakota, Wyoming, Arkansas, Tennessee, and Mississippi, these so-called "trigger bans" — laws designed to come into play should Roe disappear — will take effect after 30 days, and/or after a state official certifies the court's decision. 

But in states without trigger bans — like Alabama, Georgia, Iowa, Ohio, and South Carolina — laws that forbid most or all abortions are likely to go into effect in the near future, The Washington Post notes. And in states like Pennsylvania, Arizona, and Virginia, the fate of reproductive rights "will depend on the upcoming midterms."

How has the pro-life movement responded?

Anti-abortion groups have thus far praised the court's decision. At this weekend's National Right to Life Convention, for example, attendees hugged one another and grew emotional upon hearing the news.

"We are all excited," Carol Tobias, the committee's president, told CNN. "Of course, everybody here is erupting in tears of joy that this has finally happened. We are going to be celebrating for the rest of the weekend."

Still, she said, "We have a long battle ahead of us. Abortion is not going to be illegal because of this decision. … We certainly know this is not the end."

"I can barely talk," added Lynda Bell, chair of the board of NRLC, as well as the president of Florida Right to Life. "We have waited for this for 49 years, and finally, the court has recognized their egregious decision that stripped the states of the ability to protect life."

Meanwhile, a crowd gathered outside the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. As abortion rights protesters mourned, pro-life demonstrators applauded the decision and "danced to celebratory music," reports The New York Times.

What about the pro-choice movement?

Abortion rights supporters outside the court on Friday reacted with "despair and outrage," the Post reports. Some said they intended to defy efforts to restrict abortion, even in states where it could become illegal, the Times adds.

"To anyone today who is scared, or angry, or determined, know this — 17 million Planned Parenthood supporters proudly stand with you," Planned Parenthood Action Fund President Alexis McGill Johnson said in a statement on Friday. "We will rebuild and reclaim the freedom that is ours. We won't go back. And we won't back down."

And though President Biden harbors somewhat conflicted feelings regarding abortion, he nonetheless denounced the court's decision during a speech on Friday, calling the ruling a "tragic error."

Might other decisions now be overturned? 

Justice Clarence Thomas suggested in a concurring opinion that perhaps the court should revisit several other consequential cases — like those pertaining to same-sex marriage and contraception — now that Roe has been successfully overturned.

"In future cases, we should reconsider all of this Court's substantive due process precedents, including Griswold, Lawrence, and Obergefell," Thomas argued. 1965's Griswold v. Connecticut established a married couple's constitutional right to contraceptives, while 2003's Lawrence v. Texas ruled states may not ban sodomy. 2015's Obergefell v. Hodges protected same-sex marriage as a constitutional right.

Will there be legal ramifications?

The court's decision is about to cause "legal chaos" nationwide, Julie Rikelman, senior director of litigation at the Center for Reproductive Rights, told NPR. "I think what we will see is far more litigation in the federal courts – not less litigation."

Greer Donley, a law professor specializing in reproductive health care, agreed: "It's going to be a real nightmare," she told Politico, warning that a clear legal picture is only likely to emerge once a few months have passed.

Litigaton may also unfold in state courts where local constitutions perhaps offer "protections for abortion rights notwithstanding the U.S. Supreme Court's interpretation of the U.S. Constitution," NPR writes. And that's all without mentioning the murky issue of bans and their legal ramifications bleeding over from one state to another.

"This just raises a whole host of issues," Rikelman said, to NPR. "All of those different disputes will have to be worked out in the courts" — even perhaps the Supreme Court.

Update 3:30 p.m. ET June 24, 2022: This article has been updated with an additional section on legal challenges.

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