US Supreme Court ends right to abortion

An armored police vehicle is positioned on the plaza between the U.S. Capitol and the Supreme Court after the court handed down its decision in Dobbs v Jackson Women's Health on June 24, 2022 in Washington, DC. . PHOTO/AFP

What you need to know:

  • Hundreds of people -- some shedding tears of joy and others of grief -- gathered outside the fenced-off Supreme Court, where security was tightened ahead of the ruling.
  • The Court's decision overturns the landmark 50-year-old Roe v Wade case and erases a woman's federal constitutional right to an abortion.

The US Supreme Court on Friday ended the right to abortion in a seismic ruling that shreds half a century of constitutional protections on one of America's most divisive issues.

The conservative-dominated court overturned the landmark 1973 "Roe v. Wade" decision enshrining a woman's right to an abortion, saying individual states can restrict or ban the procedure themselves -- which half appear poised to do.

"The Constitution does not confer a right to abortion," the court said in a 6-3 decision. "The authority to regulate abortion is returned to the people and their elected representatives."

Hundreds of people -- some shedding tears of joy and others of grief -- gathered outside the fenced-off Supreme Court, where security was tightened ahead of the ruling.

"It's hard to imagine living in a country that does not respect women as human beings and their right to control their bodies," said Jennifer Lockwood-Shabat, 49, a mother of two daughters who was choking back tears.

But Gwen Charles, a 21-year-old opponent of abortion, was jubilant.

"This is the day that we have been waiting for," Charles told AFP. "We get to usher in a new culture of life in the United States."

The Supreme Court ruling will likely set into motion a cavalcade of new laws in roughly half of the 50 US states that will severely restrict or outright ban and criminalize abortions, forcing women to travel long distances to states that still permit the procedure.

Just hours after the decision, the midwestern state of Missouri banned abortion -- making no exception for rape or incest.

"This is a monumental day for the sanctity of life," state attorney general Eric Schmitt said on Twitter in announcing the move. 

'Egregiously wrong' 

In the majority opinion, Justice Samuel Alito said Roe v. Wade was "egregiously wrong."

"Abortion presents a profound moral issue on which Americans hold sharply conflicting views," he said. "The Constitution does not prohibit the citizens of each State from regulating or prohibiting abortion."

The court tossed out the legal argument in Roe v. Wade that women had the right to abortion based on the constitutional right to privacy over their own bodies.

The ruling represents a victory of 50 years of struggle against abortion by the religious right -- with campaigners now expected to keep pushing for an outright nationwide ban.

"God made the decision," said the Republican former president Donald Trump in praising the ruling.

Alito's opinion largely mirrors his draft opinion that was the subject of an extraordinary leak in early May, sparking demonstrations around the country, with an armed man arrested this month near the home of conservative justice Brett Kavanaugh.

Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic speaker of the House of Representatives, called the ruling "outrageous and heart-wrenching." 

"But make no mistake: the rights of women and all Americans are on the ballot (in midterm elections) this November," she said.

Leading abortion provider Planned Parenthood vowed to "never stop fighting." 

Former Democratic president Barack Obama charged that the ruling "relegated the most intensely personal decision someone can make to the whims of politicians and ideologues -- attacking the essential freedoms of millions of Americans."

But former Republican vice president Mike Pence said the court had "righted a historic wrong," consigning the US right to abortion to the "ash heap of history."

'Will not stop there' 

The three liberal justices on the court dissented from the ruling -- which came a day after the court ushered in a major expansion of US gun rights.

"One result of today's decision is certain: the curtailment of women's rights, and of their status as free and equal citizens," they said.

Abortion providers could now face criminal penalties and "some States will not stop there," they warned.

"Perhaps, in the wake of today's decision, a state law will criminalize the woman's conduct too, incarcerating or fining her for daring to seek or obtain an abortion," they said.

The court's ruling goes against an international trend of easing abortion laws, including in such countries as Ireland, Argentina, Mexico and Colombia where the Catholic Church continues to wield considerable influence.

It was made possible by Trump's nomination of three conservative justices -- Neil Gorsuch, Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett.

The case before the court was a Mississippi law that would restrict abortion to 15 weeks but while hearing the case in December several justices indicated they were prepared to go further.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, 13 states have adopted so-called "trigger laws" that will ban abortion virtually immediately.

Ten others have pre-1973 laws that could go into force or legislation that would ban abortion after six weeks, before many women even know they are pregnant.

Women in states with strict anti-abortion laws will either have to continue with their pregnancy, undergo a clandestine abortion or obtain abortion pills, or travel to another state where the procedure remains legal.

Several Democratic-ruled states, anticipating an influx, have taken steps to facilitate abortion and three of them -- California, Oregon and Washington -- issued a joint pledge to defend access in the wake of the Supreme Court's decision.

Travel is expensive, however, and abortion rights groups say any new restrictions will severely impact poor women, many of whom are Black or Hispanic.

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