Roe vs Wade overturned as US allows states to ban abortion

'America's political chasm has just grown deeper': Robert Moore reports on the reactions from both sides of the abortion debate after the Supreme Court overturned Roe vs Wade

The US Supreme Court has ended constitutional protections for abortion that had been in place nearly 50 years in a decision by its conservative majority to overturn Roe vs Wade.

It is now believed 26 states are either certain or likely to make moves to ban abortion outright.

The decision, unthinkable just a few years ago, was the culmination of decades of efforts by abortion opponents, made possible by an emboldened right side of the court that has seen three members appointed by former President Donald Trump.

The ruling came more than a month after the leak of a draft opinion by Justice Samuel Alito indicating the court was prepared to take this momentous step.

Clinics in at least two states, Wisconsin and West Virginia, have already stopped performing abortions after Friday's decision.

Abortion foes cheered the ruling, but abortion-rights supporters, including President Joe Biden, expressed dismay and pledged to fight to restore the rights.

President Joe Biden said Friday was 'a sad day' for America. Credit: PA

Mr Biden said the decision was "a realisation of an extreme ideology and a tragic error by the supreme court," on what he called "a sad day" for America.

"This landmark case protected woman's right to choose, her right to make intensely personal decisions with her doctor, free from the interference of politics," he said from the White House.

"Now with Roe gone, let's be very clear, the health and life of women in this nation are now at risk," he added.

The president blamed his predecessor Donald Trump for the court's decision, saying, "it was three justices named by one president, Donald Trump, at the core of today's decision to upend the scale of justice and eliminate a fundamental right for women in this country."

But the president said the fight was not over, calling upon Congress to "restore the protections of Roe v wade as federal law."

He urged voters to make their voices heard in the midterm elections this autumn, electing more senators and representatives who could codify abortion rights into law.

Pro-life activist falls to the floor in tears after the decision to overturn the ruling is announced

Justice Alito, in the final opinion issued on Friday, wrote that Roe and Planned Parenthood vs Casey, the 1992 decision that reaffirmed the right to abortion, was wrong the day they were decided and must be overturned.

“We hold that Roe and Casey must be overruled. The Constitution makes no reference to abortion, and no such right is implicitly protected by any constitutional provision,” he wrote.

The authority to regulate abortion rests with the political branches, not the courts, he added.

'Goodbye Roe,' anti-abortion protesters chant outside the Supreme Court

What is Roe vs Wade?

The Roe vs Wade ruling established a nationwide right to safe and legal abortion at any point before a foetus can survive outside the womb, generally around 24 weeks.

It was based on the decision that a woman's right to end her pregnancy came under the freedom of personal choice in family matters.

At the centre of the case was Norma McCorvey, whose legal challenge under the pseudonym “Jane Roe” led to the US Supreme Court’s landmark ruling.

She was 22, unmarried, unemployed and pregnant for the third time in 1969 when she sought to have an abortion in Texas, where the procedure was illegal except to save a woman’s life.

Norma McCorvey would change her views later in life. Credit: AP

The subsequent lawsuit led to the Supreme Court’s 1973 ruling that established abortion rights, though states could still restrict abortion to varying degrees.

Ms McCorvey later became an opponent to abortion.

What happens now Roe vs Wade has been overturned?

With the 1973 decision overruled, the power to decide on the legality of abortions and all the relevant details will be transferred in full back to each individual state.

In effect, this makes safe and legal abortions out of reach for millions of women across the country as Republican-dominated states move to ban the procedure.

 Two young women with contrasting perspectives on abortion share their views

It will likely not, however, end people getting abortions - critics say it would just end safe and legal routes of doing so and give rise to dangerous practices instead.

Some states still have unenforced laws predating 1973 that could come back to life immediately once the ruling is reversed. Others have so-called trigger laws that could be quickly enforced.

What do Americans think and how many states will ban abortion?

Polls show that most Americans want to preserve access to abortion - at least in the earlier stages of pregnancy - but the Supreme Court has now allowed individual states to have the final say.

Roughly half of states, mostly in the South and Midwest, are expected to quickly ban abortion.

Anti-abortion demonstrators outside the Supreme Court on Friday. Credit: AP

What has the reaction been to the ruling?

Former US President Barack Obama tweeted that the Supreme Court's decision, "not only reversed nearly 50 years of precedent, it relegated the most intensely personal decision someone can make to the whims of politicians and ideologues—attacking the essential freedoms of millions of Americans."

"For more than a month, we’ve known this day was coming—but that doesn’t make it any less devastating," the former President added.

House speaker Nancy Pelosi, a vocal supporter of abortion rights, responded angrily to the decision on Friday, describing it as "extremism to the nth degree."

Ms Pelosi went on to say that overturning Roe was "an evisceration of Americans' rights" and a "slap in the face of women."

Speaking at the US Capitol, she warned: "Republicans are plotting a nationwide abortion ban. They cannot be allowed to have a majority in the Congress to do that."

Rights group the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) tweeted: "We won't deny what a horrible moment this is."

"No matter what the courts say, no one should be forced to carry a pregnancy against their will," the group said, adding, "abortion is our right. We'll never stop fighting for it."

Bernie Sanders, Democratic candidate for the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections, echoed Mr Biden's calls for Roe Vs Wade to be codified, to "make abortion legal and safe."

Bernie Sanders called on Democrats to codify Roe vs Wade. Credit: AP

Boris Johnson said the US court's decision to overturn constitutional protections for abortion was a “big step backwards."

“I’ve always believed in a woman’s right to choose," the prime minister added.

Scotland's first minister Nicola Sturgeon tweeted that it was "one of the darkest days for women’s rights in my lifetime."

She warned the decision would have far-reaching consequences, emboldening anti-abortion and anti-women forces in other countries too."

US Correspondent Emma Murphy explains what the Democrats can do to soften the Supreme Court's blow

Former first lady Michelle Obama said she was "heartbroken" by the decision in a statement shared on social media.

"I am heartbroken that we may now be destined to learn the painful lessons of a time before Roe was made law of the land - a time when women risked losing their lives getting illegal abortions," she said.

Mrs Obama urged the young people who would 'bear the burden' of the decision not to give up on fighting for their values.

"I know this is not the future you chose for your generation - but if you give up now, you will inherit a country that does not resemble you or any of the values you believe in," she continued.

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Will it end with abortion?

Justice Clarence Thomas, who joined Justice Alito and who first voted to overrule Roe 30 years ago, also wrote a separate opinion in which he explicitly called on his colleagues to put the Supreme Court's same-sex marriage, gay sex and even contraception cases on the table.

This means Americans' rights to access contraception, marry a member of their own sex, and even engage in sex with a member of the same sex could also be under threat.