Why the Decision to Overturn Roe v. Wade is a Big Deal

Layla Chaaraoui, Staff Writer

Last week, a draft of an opinion uncovered by Politico found that the Supreme Court has voted to overturn Roe V Wade. Written by Justice Samuel Alito, the leaked draft rejects both Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, two laws which solidified protections on a person’s right to have an abortion. The act of an abortion, or the termination of a pregnancy, is a controversial issue and has divided the two major political parties, with Democrats generally supporting the decision, and Republicans being generally against it. In response to the draft, the country immediately erupted into debate, either for or against the overturning of the decision. 

What really is Roe v. Wade?

In 1970, the district attorney of Dallas County, Texas, Henry Wade, was sued by resident Jane Roe (a fake name, as we now know the identity of the woman to be Norma McCorvey). Roe felt that the restrictions that the District Attorney’s office put on abortions were unconstitutional because it violated a woman’s right to privacy and freedom; abortions were illegal except by a doctor’s orders to save a woman’s life. Cited in support of McCorvey were the First, Fourth, Fifth, Ninth, and Fourteenth Amendments: a woman had a right to her privacy. In the end, the court voted 7-2 for Roe, saying the Texas law was in violation.

What does Roe v. Wade say?

The decision to receive an abortion is up to a woman in the first trimester of pregnancy. States may impose reasonable regulations in the second trimester. States may prohibit abortion altogether, except in cases of life or death, in the third trimester. Alongside this, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which upheld Roe, imposed standards on abortion restrictions, asking if any law proposed places an “undue burden,” or a large obstacle for the woman. In other words, Planned Parenthood v. Casey states that if a law places difficulty on a woman’s ability to get an abortion, it is unconstitutional. 

Before Roe v. Wade

Before abortion was effectively federally legalized, abortion was illegal in 30 states. In 16 states, an abortion can be received, but only under special circumstances. To receive an abortion, many women had “back-alley” abortions, illegally receiving them from doctors and without anesthesia. Other more dramatic methods were used, including the usage of a coat hanger, or using sharp objects.

What are the arguments for Roe v. Wade?

Dubbed “pro-choice,” those who are in support of Roe v. Wade believe that women should have a right to choose. It is argued that women should have access to their bodies and to the decisions they make for it, one of these being the right to privacy to have an abortion. There are many public pro-choice organizations, including Pro-Choice America, the ACLU, and Women’s March. Though not all may agree with the concept of abortion, pro-choice proponents believe that getting an abortion is a woman’s business and that it should be an accessible procedure if desired. 

What are the arguments against Roe v. Wade?

Dubbed “pro-life,” those who are against the Roe v. Wade decision believe that abortion is murder. It is argued that life begins at conception, and so when terminating a pregnancy, one is killing a life. There are many public pro-life organizations, such as Live Action, the National Right to Life Committee, and March For Life, an annual march in Washington D.C. protesting the bill. Those who are pro-life are against both the practice and legality of abortion, as they argue that it is murder. Some even say that the fetus can feel pain when aborted. 

What is an abortion?

An abortion is the termination of a pregnancy. Presently, the most common ways to have an abortion are through medicine or a surgical procedure. With an abortion pill, two different types of medicine are taken: the first blocks the pregnancy from growing, and the second forces a process similar to a miscarriage. The abortion pill has proven to be effective and is a way to terminate an early pregnancy. The abortion surgical procedure is when a small suction device is used to remove pregnancy tissue from inside a woman. This procedure generally takes 5 to 10 minutes and is effective. A rare procedure, called dilation and extraction, is also conducted, but only if the fetus cannot survive outside of the womb or to protect the mother. Dilation and extraction, which many pro-life organizations often criticize, is performed through forceps which remove the pregnancy. The majority of abortions (92.7%, reported in 2019) are performed in the first trimester when the fetus is not at all developed, and are not dilation and extraction abortions. 

What happens if it is overturned?

If Roe v. Wade is overturned, 25-26 states are likely to ban abortions. Thirteen states have “trigger-laws,” immediately making abortions illegal in those states. The number of abortions received would dramatically decrease, as many women would have to travel farther to receive an abortion. Those who are not able to do this, especially those within low-income and poor communities, may be forced to carry the pregnancy to term. If they cannot support a child, these women have two options: place their child into foster care or up for adoption, or attempt to raise the child. If they choose to give their child away, foster care and the adoption system will receive an influx of children, and these systems, already lacking in funding and placement options, may fail to handle this surplus. If the woman attempts to raise the child, but it is not in the financial or personal state to do so, more people may begin to rely on government public assistance and Welfare programs to get by. If Roe v. Wade is overturned, the federal government should prepare for these instances to occur. 

What’s next?

Currently, the Senate attempted to pass a bill protecting the right to an abortion, but the law did not pass. Republican support for the bill was next to none, and Democrat Joe Manchin joined the Republicans in denying the bill, saying it was “too vague.” This attempt to codify, or write into law, Roe v. Wade, will likely not happen, but Democrats within Congress plan to continue trying to protect the law. However, it is likely that Roe v. Wade will be overturned by the Conservative-leaning Supreme Court, even if the public will find out an official ruling as early as mid-late June. The implications of whether or not Roe v. Wade is overturned may become even more apparent in the months to follow, as states are already passing laws banning medical abortions, and the access to birth control and contraceptives is to become threatened.