Roe v Wade: Will abortion be illegal in the US and could access to contraception be next?

The decision has caused division. Credit: AP

By Multimedia Producer Connor Parker

The US Supreme Court has overturned Roe v Wade in a historic move that will pave the way for individual states to completely remove a woman's right to have an abortion.

For almost 50 years pregnant people in the US have had the legal right to an abortion, which was laid out in the 1973 Roe v Wade court case.

On Friday, the US Supreme Court overturned that ruling after the conservative-dominated court ruled 6-3 in favour of the decision.

The move has immediately sparked protests and an uproar from liberal politicians in the United States and is likely to further widen the partisan gap between Democrats and Republicans.

When and where will abortion become illegal in the US?

The ruling itself did not make abortion illegal, it just moved the decision over whether a state should provide abortion services from the Supreme Court to politicians.

Referencing this in the court’s opinion, written by Justice Samuel Alito, noted women “are not without electoral or political power.”

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Many states have passed so-called "trigger laws" that came into effect as soon as Roe v Wade was overturned that will outlaw abortion.

Others have left old laws regarding abortion still technically in their laws which can now be reactivated.

Finally, some states have tried to pass laws making abortion illegal in all but a few circumstances, usually if the pregnancy endangers the woman's life, which have been struck down by courts for violating Roe v Wade - these could now be brought back.

Overall, 17 states in the US will now be moving quickly to ban abortion except to save a mother's life.

These states are:

  • Alabama

  • Arkansas

  • Idaho

  • Louisiana

  • Michigan

  • Oklahoma

  • Texas

  • Ohio

  • Kentucky

  • Mississippi

  • Missouri

  • North Dakota

  • South Dakota

  • Tennessee

  • Utah

  • Wisconsin

  • Wyoming

Some will permit abortion if the child was conceived by rape or incest.

Georgia, Iowa and South Carolina have said they plan to limit abortions to the first six weeks of pregnancy - often before a woman knows she is pregnant.

Arizona, North Carolina and West Virginia have said they plan on limiting to the first 13 weeks.

All of these states are at least in some way controlled by the Republican Party.

On the other end of the argument, liberal states like New York and California have vowed to make access to abortion a legal right within their own state constitutions.

Despite a majority of states planning to limit access to abortion, almost all of them have relatively small populations meaning only a minority of Americans will lose access to it.

It is expected around 40 million women of childbearing age will be impacted by the ruling, out of the US's 332 million population.

What does this mean for other rights in the US?

The ruling has sparked alarm from among LGBTQ advocates in the US, who fear their rights could now be threatened.

In a separate concurring opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas said the court should review other precedents, including its 2015 decision legalising same-sex marriage, a 2003 decision striking down laws criminalising gay sex and a 1965 decision declaring that married couples have a right to use contraception.

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

“Let’s just be clear. Today is about this horrifying invasion of privacy that this court is now allowing, and when we lose one right that we have relied on and enjoyed, other rights are at risk,” said Jim Obergefell, the plaintiff in the landmark ruling legalising same-sex marriage, who is now running as a Democrat for the Ohio House.Justice Thomas is widely viewed as the most conservative member of the court and his opinion was not reflected in Justice Alito's statement.

Justice Alito said: "And to ensure that our decision is not misunderstood or mischaracterized, we emphasize that our decision concerns the constitutional right to abortion and no other right."

He added: "Nothing in this opinion should be understood to cast doubt on precedents that do not concern abortion."

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However, there remains fears people's right to access contraception could be struck down.

Some abortion opponents treat some forms of contraception as forms of abortion, particularly IUDs and emergency birth control such as the morning-after pill.

Lawmakers in Idaho and Missouri last year discussed banning state funding for emergency contraception, and Idaho prevents public schools or universities from dispersing it.

President Joe Biden himself noted this Supreme Court's ruling on Friday could undermine rights to contraception and gay marriage speaking soon after it was announced.

Connecticut Attorney General William Tong, a Democrat, called the decision “dangerous” and warned that it carves the nation into two parts. He predicted there will be “a tsunami of radical litigation and legislation aimed at further eroding rights we have taken for granted.”

"Make no mistake — this is just the beginning of a systematic right-wing effort to rewrite decades of bedrock legal precedent," he said.

What does this mean for the UK?

Abortions can take place in the first 24 weeks of pregnancy in England, Scotland and Wales.

However, they have to be approved by two doctors.

They must agree having the baby would pose a greater risk to the physical or mental health of the woman than a termination.

It is allowed after this time period if there is a risk to the life of the woman, evidence of severe foetal abnormality or risk of grave physical and mental injury to the woman.

However, in Northern Ireland, abortion can only be obtained if the woman’s life is at risk and in some cases of foetal abnormality.

Although some Conservative MPs, most notably Jacob Rees Mogg, have voiced their support for restricting abortions in the UK, the idea has never been very popular.

Boris Johnson said the decision was a "big step backwards." Credit: PA

After the ruling, 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.

There is some support for it in the UK, mainly from Christian groups, some of which have been funded by large US anti-abortion lobby groups.

In the UK, charity Christian Action Research and Education (Care) said “the most compassionate societies esteem and protect” both mothers and babies.

Chief executive Ross Hendry said: “Limiting access to abortion must be accompanied by appropriate support for women experiencing crisis pregnancies, and families raising children.

“This is what a true pro-life ethic looks like.”