On June 24, the reproductive rights landscape in the United States underwent a dramatic rightward shift: In a 6-3 vote, the Supreme Court voted against abortion rights in the abortion rights case Dobbs v. Jackson — and overturned Roe v. Wade, the landmark court case that protected the constitutional right to an abortion for nearly half a century. Now, the right to abortion returns to the state-by-state patchwork that was the reality before Roe was first decided in 1973. People all over the country are frustrated and furious — including a few sitting members of the Supreme Court itself.
In the decision, Justice Samuel Alito wrote for the majority. “We hold that Roe [v. Wade] and [Planned Parenthood v.] Casey must be overruled,” the ruling read, referencing the two landmark Supreme Court cases which had protected the right to abortion. “The Constitution makes no reference to abortion, and no such right is implicitly protected by any constitutional provision.” Justices Clarence Thomas, Brett Kavanaugh, and Chief Justice John Roberts all filed concurring opinions.
But notably, instead of each writing their own dissent, the three liberal justices — Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, and Stephen Breyer — all joined to write a single dissent, indicating the uniformity of their opposition. And one line in particular stands out as a poignant summary of the whole case.
In the dissent, the justices started by noting that the right to abortion was rooted in the balance of protecting both unborn fetuses, but also the life, health, and wellbeing of pregnant people.
“Today, the Court discards that balance,” the justices wrote. “It says that from the very moment of fertilization, a woman has no rights to speak of. A State can force her to bring a pregnancy to term, even at the steepest personal and familial costs.”
The dissent went on to note that this is not hypothetical — it’s already happening. “An abortion restriction, the majority holds, is permissible whenever rational, the lowest level of scrutiny known to the law. And because, as the Court has often stated, protecting fetal life is rational, States will feel free to enact all manner of restrictions,” the dissent continued. “States have already passed such laws, in anticipation of today’s ruling. More will follow.” The justices noted that a person would be forced to give birth even if the pregnancy is the product of rape, even if the fetus has fatal birth defects and couldn’t live outside the womb, and even if the act of giving birth threatens their own life. “Across a vast array of circumstances, a State will be able to impose its moral choice on a woman and coerce her to give birth to a child.”
This isn’t the first time the justices have issued scathing dissents against the court’s majority decision to uphold laws that chip away at reproductive rights. On Sept. 1, 2021, Sonia Sotomayor chided her colleagues for declining to block the anti-choice Texas law, Senate Bill 8 (SB8), from going into effect. “The Court’s order is stunning,” Sotomayor wrote. “Presented with an application to enjoin a flagrantly unconstitutional law engineered to prohibit women from exercising their constitutional rights and evade judicial scrutiny, a majority of Justices have opted to bury their heads in the sand.”
While abortion is no longer a constitutionally protected right in the United States, reproductive rights advocates are still working to ensure abortion remains as accessible as possible. You can help their cause here.