The ruling rescinds a 1973 court verdict protecting women’s right to an abortion.
The US Supreme Court has overturned Roe v Wade, removing federal abortion protections and placing the responsibility for legalizing or banning the procedure upon individual states, in a decision handed down Friday.
“The Constitution does not prohibit the citizens of each State from regulating or prohibiting abortion. Roe and Casey arrogated that authority. We now overrule those decisions and return that authority to the people and their elected representatives,” Justice Samuel Alito wrote in the opinion.
The controversial decision stemmed from a Mississippi case – Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Organization – which centered on the constitutionality of a state law banning abortions after the first 15 weeks of pregnancy. In appealing the case to the Supreme Court, the state explicitly sought the overturn of Roe v Wade.
Justices Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett sided with Alito in the majority opinion.
Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan dissented from the majority opinion, while Chief Justice John Roberts said he would have stopped short of ending the right to abortion but would have upheld the Mississippi law at the centre of the case.
While the decision to overturn Roe is guaranteed to spark protests nationwide, it does not come as a surprise, as a draft of Alito’s opinion was leaked earlier this year. Several states have shored up their own abortion protections in anticipation to Roe being struck down, while others have taken the pending decision as a green light to move forward on abortion bans. The removal of federal protection leaves slightly fewer than half of US states with laws restricting abortions.
The leak of the draft opinion last month led to massive demonstrations by pro-choice groups. Supreme Court justices’ home addresses were released online and protests staged outside their houses. Earlier this month, an armed man was arrested outside the Chevy Chase home of Justice Brett Kavanaugh, having reportedly traveled all the way from California to “give his life a purpose” by murdering the anti-abortion judge.