Explainer: What does the Roe v Wade decision mean?

Explainer: What does the Roe v Wade decision mean?

The decision arrived at by the US Supreme Court on 24th June 2022 represents a new departure for how abortion policy is decided in the United States. For fifty years, the legal ruling set down by the Roe v Wade judgement (1973) found that there existed a constitutional right to an abortion under the guarantee of privacy set out by the US Constitution. This decision was later copper-fastened in the Casey v Planned Parenthood case (1992) decided by the Supreme Court. The US Supreme Court recently tested these previous rulings in judging the Dobbs v Jackson case, which produced the conclusion that there does not exist a constitutional-based right to an abortion.

This judgement ensures that the previous federal blanket legalisation of abortion on principle will no longer be in play. Abortion policy therefore must be determined by the legislatures of individual states, or at the federal level. There will invariably be future challenges which must be decided by the Supreme Court to consider exactly the measure of abortion’s legality, but this judgement is a step in the right direction which ends fifty years of rigid pro-abortion law. Sixty-two per cent of Americans previously voiced their desire to restrict aspects of the US abortion regime, with some favouring outlawing abortion outright. Meanwhile, a recent poll found that sixty-nine per cent of women believed there should be considerable restrictions on abortion.[1] This ruling therefore hands power back to people to choose for themselves what sort of abortion policy should exist in their state and country.

Already in the aftermath of the most recent Supreme Court judgement, at least thirteen states had so-called ‘trigger laws’ on the statute books which would seek to introduce pro-life laws immediately after the repeal of Roe v Wade. Meanwhile, several states have voiced their determination to retain liberal pro-abortion laws, such as New York.

Overall, this ruling realised an obvious truth that there was not and is not an inherent right to an abortion in the US Constitution. Its original shapers certainly did not consider abortion a ‘right’, nor did most generations of Americans. Whether abortion should be legislated for or not is a separate question, but the decision must be made by people through their representatives at the political level and not through the Supreme Court.

The decision has been roundly welcomed by international pro-life groups, in the US and elsewhere. The decision represents a step in the right direction for the cause of human life and the protection of women and their unborn babies.

[1] https://www.kofc.org/en/resources/communications/kofc-marist-polling-crosstabs2022.pdf

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