The U.S. Supreme Court reverses Roe v. Wade. : Consider This from NPR On Friday, the U.S. Supreme Court officially reversed Roe v. Wade, declaring that the constitutional right to abortion no longer exists. For nearly 50 years, Americans have had a constitutional right to an abortion. We're about to find out what the country looks like without one. The court's ruling doesn't mean a nationwide ban– it allows states to do what they want.

NPR's Nina Totenberg walks us through the ruling, and NPR's Sarah McCammon discusses the states where "trigger bans," or laws passed in anticipation of the Supreme Court's action, are already in place.

In participating regions, you'll also hear a local news segment to help you make sense of what's going on in your community.

Email us at considerthis@npr.org.

Roe v. Wade Is Overturned

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

We therefore hold that the Constitution does not confer a right to abortion. Roe and Casey must be overruled, and the authority to regulate abortion must be returned to the people and their elected representatives. With those two sentences, the Supreme Court upended nearly a half-century of legal precedent. It's a moment advocates for abortion rights have feared and that opponents have been working toward for decades. Both groups were outside the court Friday morning when the verdict came down to protest...

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: This decision must not stand.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS #1: This decision must not stand.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: Legal abortion on demand.

SHAPIRO: ...Or to celebrate.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS #2: (Singing) Woo-hoo (ph). 'Cause tonight's going to be a good night.

SHAPIRO: Some in the crowd had not planned to come to the court, but felt compelled after the opinion...

POPPY LOUTHAN: I came here from Seattle for a library conference.

SHAPIRO: ...Like Poppy Louthan.

LOUTHAN: And I walked over here when I knew the decision was handed down. And I just - women are going to die.

SHAPIRO: She says her daughter is a teenager now, and she's worried about the world she's growing into.

LOUTHAN: The Supreme Court is meant to give us justice, and it's being taken away. And I'm overcome - I'm just overcome with grief.

SHAPIRO: Kelsey Smith from Clemson, S.C., is wearing a shirt that says, the pro-life generation votes.

KELSEY SMITH: Very excited, very happy, very grateful - but still a lot of work to do. We still - I mean, the pro-life generation and the pro-life movement wants to really make abortion illegal, unthinkable and unnecessary.

SHAPIRO: Abortion rights advocates warn that overturning Roe could mean women who seek abortions end up in prison. Smith says she hopes that doesn't happen.

SMITH: I don't believe that women should be jailed because I really think it's, like, the abortion industry and culture that has failed them when they choose an abortion, and they deserve better.

SHAPIRO: Another woman outside the court asked not to use her name to share details of her own abortion.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: You know, there were so many women who helped me get an abortion when I was desperate and needed it.

SHAPIRO: She wants anyone in that situation to know that post-Roe, there are still people who will help someone get an abortion.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: And that I personally will help anyone I know who needs one, no matter what the legal landscape is.

SHAPIRO: CONSIDER THIS - for nearly 50 years, Americans have had a constitutional right to an abortion. We are about to find out what the country looks like without one.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SHAPIRO: From NPR, I'm Ari Shapiro. It's Friday, June 24.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SHAPIRO: It's CONSIDER THIS FROM NPR. The story of today's Supreme Court decision starts with another one issued on January 22, 1973.

(SOUNDBITE OF MONTAGE)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #1: Good evening. In a landmark ruling, the Supreme Court today legalized abortion.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #2: Overrides most state laws concerning abortions. The court...

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #3: The court said in a 7-to-2 decision that in the first three months of pregnancy...

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #4: Abortion is completely a private matter to be decided by a mother and doctor.

SHAPIRO: That decision established a nationwide right to an abortion. At the time, terminating a pregnancy was illegal in the vast majority of states. Over the years, some states imposed limits on that right - passing restrictions on who could provide abortions, requiring women to take certain steps before getting them and stipulating when abortions could take place. The court's ruling in Planned Parenthood v. Casey allowed many of those restrictions. But the fundamental idea at the core of Roe, the constitutional right to an abortion, has held firm in case after case. Then came Mississippi's Gestational Age Act in 2018.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #5: Lawmakers in the Mississippi House passed a bill that bans abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

SHAPIRO: A sponsor of the law, Representative Becky Currie, explicitly stated that she was trying to overturn Roe versus Wade. She made this video for a conservative Christian legal group.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BECKY CURRIE: This flawed and unconstitutional precedent has stood for nearly 50 years too long. But we are hoping to change it.

SHAPIRO: The Mississippi law eventually made its way to a Supreme Court that has moved dramatically to the right after President Trump appointed three conservative justices. NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg walks us through how they ruled.

NINA TOTENBERG, BYLINE: Justice Samuel Alito, writing for the court majority, said the Supreme Court's repeated decisions reaffirming a woman's right to abortion must be overruled. The reason, he said, was that they were egregiously wrong, damaging and an abuse of judicial authority. As to what standard the courts should apply in the event a state law is challenged, he said, any state regulation is presumptively valid and must be upheld. Attorney General Merrick Garland, however, said in a statement that FDA-approved pills that induce abortion may not be banned.

The court's vote was 6-to-3 or 5-to-4, depending on how you look at it. All five of the court's conservatives signed on to the opinion except Chief Justice John Roberts. He wrote separately, saying that while he agreed that the reasoning in Roe was wrong, the court's other decisions upholding the right to abortion did not merit reversal. He would have upheld Mississippi's law banning abortion after 15 weeks, thus preserving the right to get an abortion for more than three months while at the same time avoiding what he called a serious jolt to the legal system.

All the justices in the majority were appointed by Republican presidents - the dissenters appointed by Democratic presidents. The court's three liberals, Justices Breyer, Kagan and Sotomayor filed a lengthy joint dissent, saying that the court's ruling means that from the very moment of fertilization, a woman has no right to speak of. A state can force her to bring a pregnancy to term, even at the steepest personal and familial costs. Young women today will come of age, they said, with fewer rights than their mothers and grandmothers. With sorrow for this court, but more for many millions of American women who have today lost a fundamental right, we dissent.

The practical effect of today's decision is that abortion will not be available in large swaths of the country. And as University of Michigan law professor Leah Litman observes, the court's decision also opens the possibility of a national ban on abortions at some time in the future.

LEAH LITMAN: The next time the Republicans win control of the Senate and the White House and House of Representatives, a national abortion ban is going to be on the table.

TOTENBERG: Law professor Mary Ziegler, author of four books on the history of abortion, notes that the Supreme Court is voraciously eating up its political capital.

MARY ZIEGLER: It's doing it in high-visibility issues, and it's doing it very quickly and unapologetically. And that's, of course, going to convince many Americans that the court is simply an unelected partisan institution, which is not something that most Americans are going to feel good about.

TOTENBERG: Indeed, Gallup just released a poll showing that the court's approval ratings have plummeted to a historic low of 25%. Today's decision, including concurring and dissenting opinions, totaled 205 pages of writing and will be dissected for years to come. But some things are particularly notable. Justice Clarence Thomas wrote separately to say, in essence, that the court had not gone far enough. NYU Law Professor Melissa Murray.

MELISSA MURRAY: To my mind, the most surprising new information is really from Justice Thomas. He says that, yes, we're stopping at abortion today, but we should, in the future, take up the questions of, for example, the 2015 opinion that legalized same-sex marriage, the 2003 opinion that made lawful same-sex sexuality, the 1965 opinion that really is the rock of the right of privacy, which allowed for the use of contraception by married people.

TOTENBERG: Though Justice Alito echoed some of those themes, near the end of the opinion he emphasized that today's decision was about abortion and no other right. For those who care about abortion, pro or con, that was enough.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Nina Totenberg.

Phil Bryant, the former governor of Mississippi, who signed the bill at issue into law, celebrated the ruling.

PHIL BRYANT: We just believe that it's murder. We believe that it is the tearing apart of the human body in the womb. And so we were very happy - I was and I know many of us that heard that ruling today.

SHAPIRO: The court's ruling itself doesn't say anything about the legality of abortion. It kicks that decision to the states. But in many states, the decision had immediate consequences. President Biden warned about that after the verdict.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: State laws banning abortion are automatically taking effect today, jeopardizing the health of millions of women, some without exceptions. So extreme that women could be punished for protecting their health. So extreme that women and girls are forced to bear their rapist's child.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Sarah McCammon talked to my colleague Ailsa Chang about how state officials and abortion providers are figuring out their next moves after this tectonic shift in the legal landscape.

AILSA CHANG, BYLINE: OK. So give us an overview here. What have you seen happening immediately?

SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: So within hours or even minutes, really, of this decision being released this morning, I was hearing reports from clinics in several states that they were stopping abortion services right away. Louisiana and Kentucky have been at the top of the list of states with abortion bans that were expected to take effect right away. My contacts at clinics in those states told me they were shutting down. I talked to Tamarra Wieder. She's Kentucky's state director for Planned Parenthood.

TAMARRA WIEDER: We were preparing for the decision to come down, and so we have already made the next steps in making sure that they had appointments in places that we knew would be available to them, whether that is in Indiana or Illinois. We do anticipate, though, that Indiana will lose abortion services very soon.

MCCAMMON: And that's because there is a whole web of state laws that work in different ways and at different times, Ailsa. And today we've just been seeing a cascade of those taking effect and also of state officials responding to them.

CHANG: Right. Let's talk about those laws. Like, what do these different types of laws look like? How will they work?

MCCAMMON: So some require state officials to take some kind of action to implement laws banning abortion. That's been happening in states like Missouri, for example, where the attorney general quickly announced the trigger law there banning abortion was taking effect. Others take effect after a period of time. Tennessee state officials say abortion will be illegal there in 30 days, others have old pre-Roe v. Wade laws still on the books. And in Texas, in addition to a law that took effect last year and banned most abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy, the state of Texas has several other even more restrictive laws in place that have kind of been waiting in the wings. And now that's creating some uncertainty about which ones apply now that Roe has been overturned. Jeffrey Hons is the president and CEO of Planned Parenthood, South Texas. He says his region is shutting down today while they try to sort things out.

JEFFREY HONS: The pause in our abortion care, while very interruptive to our dedication to our patients, is the right thing to do so that we have time to ensure that Planned Parenthood organizations remain compliant with the law and maintain the strength of our organizations to provide health care to all of our patients.

MCCAMMON: And one independent clinic in San Antonio told me they had patients in the waiting room today that they had to cancel appointments for.

CHANG: So what is the next step for abortion rights advocates now? Like, what are they telling you?

MCCAMMON: They're weighing a variety of potential legal strategies. In some states, they'll be challenging abortion bans under state constitutional provisions - Ohio and Kentucky, for example. And that could buy abortion providers some time, but ultimately, Ailsa, about half of states in this country have laws either banning or deeply restricting abortion, and by and large, they're expected to be allowed to take effect eventually.

CHANG: Right. Well, for those who do oppose abortion rights, it goes without saying, today marks a major victory that's taken decades to achieve. What's ahead for them at this point?

MCCAMMON: Yeah, from them, I'm hearing a tremendous amount of celebration. Activists had been working toward this goal at all levels of government for almost 50 years. Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch - of course, where this case originated, was Mississippi - she praised the decision during a press conference today and said the fight is not over.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

LYNN FITCH: Now, our work to empower women and promote life truly begins. The court has let loose its hold on abortion policy-making and given it back to the people.

MCCAMMON: She called for improving services for pregnant women and for children, and beyond that, many abortion rights opponents want to continue passing restrictions at the state level, and also at the federal level if they can.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Sarah McCammon talking with my co-host Ailsa Chang. It's CONSIDER THIS FROM NPR. I'm Ari Shapiro.

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