The Supreme Court has officially overturned ‘Roe v. Wade’ – this is how it could impact us in the UK

·4-min read
Photo credit: Alex Wong - Getty Images
Photo credit: Alex Wong - Getty Images

The Supreme Court of the United States officially overturned Roe v. Wade today, the nearly 50-year-old case that protected a person’s right to choose to have an abortion. Essentially, this new decision removes Roe v. Wade as the rule of the land and now allows states in America to individually set their own laws for the medical procedure. The high court also overruled Planned Parenthood v. Casey.

The ruling comes from the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization case, which has been with SCOTUS for more than a year. In this case, Mississippi essentially asked the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade and the 1992 Supreme Court decision from Planned Parenthood v. Casey.

“The Constitution does not confer a right to abortion. Roe and Casey are overruled, and the authority to regulate abortion is returned to the people and their elected representatives,” read the Court’s opinion.

In 1973, Roe v. Wade was decided as precedent that forbade states from prohibiting abortion access and procedures before a fetus was considered viable, which was determined to be roughly 23 or 24 weeks. Now, states are able to put serious restrictions on the medical procedure—or outright ban it completely.

Arkansas, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, and Texas have “trigger laws” in place, meaning today’s SCOTUS decision now allows them to legally enforce their super-strict abortion policies. However, there are still 15 states, plus the District of Columbia, that do protect abortion rights even in the midst of Roe v. Wade being overturned.

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Speaking about how the ruling could impact us here in the UK, MSI Reproductive Choices' Louise McCudden, Advocacy and Public Affairs Advisor, said although it won't impact those seeking an abortion in practice, it will no doubt embolden anti-choice protestors (who would no doubt love to see healthcare rights similarly reversed over here).

"Although the UK is a proudly pro-choice nation with over 90% of people in support of abortion rights, we are concerned how a rollback of Roe v Wade in the US will embolden anti-choice activists in the UK," says McCudden. "We’re already seeing an increase in anti-choice activity outside some of our clinics, which may well be in part because anti-choice groups will now feel so emboldened by this news.

"It's also a timely reminder that abortion laws and access to services in the UK, although better than in many countries, are far from perfect. It is not right that abortion still sits within criminal law and people must obtain sign off from two doctors before they can access essential healthcare. The devastating news from the US should serve as a reminder that we in the UK can never take reproductive rights for granted until abortion is treated like all other healthcare."

The final decision comes after a draft of the ruling was leaked by Politico in early May. “Roe was egregiously wrong from the start,” Justice Samuel Alito wrote in the draft. “Its reasoning was exceptionally weak, and the decision has had damaging consequences. And far from bringing about a national settlement of the abortion issue, Roe and Casey have enflamed debate and deepened division.”

Considering the makeup on the Court—six of the nine justices are conservative, with three being appointed by former President Donald Trump – the decision is unfortunately not surprising, especially considering these judges have shown merciless viewpoints around reproductive rights.

In the leaked draft, Justice Alito reiterated that the Constitution never protected a person's right to abortion. “We hold that Roe and Casey must be overruled,” he adds. “The Constitution makes no reference to abortion, and no such right is implicitly protected by any constitutional provision.…It is time to heed the Constitution and return the issue of abortion to the people’s elected representatives.”

The ramifications of overturning Roe, quite frankly, makes for a bleak future. Not only will the most vulnerable of the American population be disproportionately impacted, but doctors who continue to perform the medical procedure could be sued and jailed, and people who receive abortions could be in serious legal trouble as well.

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