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Roe v. Wade Overturned: What it Means for Abortion Rights

In its decision issued on June 24, the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and abolished the constitutional right to abortion, allowing individual states to limit or ban abortion completely.

What is Roe v. Wade?

This landmark ruling of 1973 made abortions legal before a fetus could be viable outside the womb, between 24 and 28 weeks of pregnancy. It all began when a Texas woman who was pregnant was denied access to an abortion because the state of Texas prohibited abortion except in cases where the mother's life could be endangered. She filed a lawsuit under the pseudonym “Jane Roe” and eventually brought the case to the US Supreme Court where she and her Lawyers argued that the abortion laws of Texas and Georgia were unconstitutional as they infringed on a woman’s right to privacy. 

By a vote of seven to two, the court decided that governments did not have the capacity to ban abortions, since women had a constitutional right to choose. The court, however, did not establish the right to privacy as absolute, instead, it tried to balance a woman’s right of privacy with a state’s interest in regulating abortion.

As a result, the Court announced a pregnancy trimester timetable to govern all abortion laws in the United States. Within the first trimester, it is entirely up to the women to decide on abortion. Throughout the second trimester, governments can regulate/limit abortion to certain extend, but cannot ban it. In the third trimester, the state can ban abortion to save a fetus that could survive independently outside the womb, unless the woman's life or health is in danger.

The recent decision of the Supreme Court

In the recent decision overturning Roe v. Wade the Supreme Court deliberated that the constitution did not expressly or implicitly protect the right to access abortion. It said: “the Constitution makes no reference to abortion, and no such right is implicitly protected by any constitutional provision”. Judge Samuel Alito wrote that “abortion couldn’t be constitutionally protected. Until the latter part of the 20th century, such a right was entirely unknown in American law.”

Human Rights Implications

A recent Supreme Court decision opens the door to individual states to heavily regulate or outright ban the abortion. As a result, thirteen states (Arkansas, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and Wyoming) have already banned abortions and it is predicted that a total of 26 states will follow.

It is important to understand access to abortion in conjunction with other important human rights, such as privacy, security, nondiscrimination and so on. Since the Supreme Court has restricted the right to abortion for millions of women, it is intriguing how the US will continue to meet international human rights standards that guarantee access to safe abortion procedures.