Turning Back the Clock: Living in a Post-Roe World


Yasin Ozturk via Getty Images

Crowds gather outside the Supreme Court building in Washington, DC in protest following the announcement of the Dobbs decision. In its decision, the Court seemed to overturn precedents set by Roe v. Wade.

Taking pride in its confidentiality of internal affairs, the Supreme Court had this curtain of secrecy torn open when on May 2 of 2022, Politico published a draft opinion that was unintended to be divulged. The draft opinion would be fated to disestablish a fundamental human right which some had possessed their entire lives.

Consisting of ninety-eight pages, the leaked document came as a chilling shock to the nation. Yet, a series of events tracing back for years was what made the overturn of previously precedent case Roe v. Wade feasible to overturn, and possibly predictable.

In 1970, a Texas district court found that Norma McCorvey, who took on the legal pseudonym Jane Roe, had the standing to sue for being denied the right to an abortion, and the decision ruled that the abortion ban in Texas was illegal and unconstitutional because it violated the right to privacy. Both sides of the case appealed one of the previous rulings, allowing the litigation to continue and advance to the Supreme Court, where a 7-2 decision was made. This would come to form one of the most controversial and widely debated cases in the history of the Supreme Court.

The ruling of Roe v Wade effectively legalized abortion across the nation, and protected it from that point on as a right. Inherent in the fourteenth amendment’s due process clause was a right to privacy, of which a woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy fell under, still taking consideration towards the potentiality of human life.

With Roe v Wade ruled in favor of the plaintiff, the case became a turning point in women’s rights. Legal term stare decisis, translating to “stand by things decided” in Latin, is what permits the 1973 decision to be a landmark case. Without Roe v Wade, there would be no authoritative precedent case established to refer to for subsequent cases concerning similar issues. The ruling  constituted abortion as a right found in the constitution, simultaneously making certain legal limitations on abortion unenforcable. State laws attempting to prevent abortions could still exist, however they could be neither enforced nor acted upon. The impact of Roe was larger than simply abortion rights; it gave women control over their bodies and lives.

Roe v Wade’s impact continued for fifty years. During this period of time, pro-life lobbyists in opposition to the ruling met with government officials, attempting to convince them to institute laws that would limit abortion, even if they were unenforcable. 

Throughout ex-President Barack Obama’s term, three Supreme Court vacancies emerged, however, Mitch McConnel blocked President Obama from filing the vacancies. With only a few months left to his term, President Obama was unable to appoint new justices, allowing President Trump to nominate three to the court. Justices Brett Kavanaugh, Amy Coney Barrett, and Neil Gorsuch were appointed, which changed the conservative to liberal ratio to 6-3. When Justice Samuel Alito wrote a draft opinion to overturn Roe v Wade, he already knew the outcome. 

Egregiously wrong is what Justice Alito claimed Roe v Wade was before it was overturned on June 24, 2022. With six votes, the constitutional right to abortion belonging to women across America no longer exists, reversing fifty years of what was precedent is highly uncommon. 

Justice Alito’s reasoning behind the overturn is rooted in the Fourteenth Amendment and due process clause. Instead of interpreting the law and Constitution as the Supreme Court is meant to do, some justices such as Alito are originalists, meaning they believe the Constitution should be interpreted solely based upon its intended meaning at the time it was constructed. With this belief becoming the majority of the court, a radical exercise of power is inevitable. 

Justice Alito argues that the original decision behind Roe v Wade was flawed from the beginning, and that no amendment’s rights extended to a right to abortion. His draft opinion states that Roe v Wade’s arguments were irrelevant and incorrect, while also rejecting the scientifically based idea that the viability of a fetus is of any importance. 

Despite the claims that the original argument was exceptionally weak, there is quite logical reasoning behind as to where exactly a right to abortion can be found in the Constitution. The Fourteenth Amendment promises equal protection under the law, which should well apply to control over bodily autonomy between the states. Alito’s statements are directly contradicted by the Ninth Amendment as well, assuring that the listing of rights in the Constitution would not be interpreted in a particular or biased way so that it would deny or depreciate citizens of rights.

The reversal of Roe v Wade determines that it is left to the states to decide whether abortion should be legal or illegal. Trigger laws placed either allowed limitations on abortion to go into affect almost immediately after the case was overturned. These laws put into place pre-Roe or were created during the time period when a right to abortion was guaranteed, but were just unenforcable. Some states already have bans on abortion down to as little as six weeks; a point in fetal development when a fair amount women have not even come to the realization that they are pregnant. 

Roe v Wade’s influence also protected all other rights not explicitly stated in the Constitution. With the reversal of a case that occurred half a century ago, many other precedent cases that protect unenumerated rights are also put in jeopardy. Roe v Wade not only set precedence for abortion rights, but also allowed other cases that protects rights not specifically mentioned in the Constitution to take place. Same-sex marriage is protected by precedent case Obergefell v Hodges, which may befall the same fate as Roe v Wade if the Supreme Court continues to take an originalist view on other cases.

With no precedent case in place to set a core example for any legal issues concerning abortion from this time forth, there is little to stop miscarriages from being investigated, or medically necessary abortions from being prevented. Protests erupted across the country out of fear for generations to come and anger that a right protected for so long was suddenly stripped away after the decision came out. It is uncertain as to whether a Constitutional right to abortion in the United States will be ever guaranteed again.