Roe v. Wade and the Supreme Court: Everything You Should Know

This article attempts to outline abortion rights and the Supreme Court in a simplified manner.  However, the author is not a legal expert, because of this, there are many sources linked throughout.
To see how this could affect people that live here in Virginia, skip to the “Impact” section.

What is Roe v. Wade?

In the simplest terms possible, Roe v. Wade was a decision by the Supreme Court of the United States that guaranteed the right to a legal abortion during the first twelve weeks after conception, also known as the first trimester. It still allowed states to make restrictions during the second and third trimesters, though many state laws allow the procedure to be performed much later into the pregnancy. The results from the decision were widespread, but perhaps unexpected to some. The number of abortions did not meaningfully increase, they were just made legal. Roe allowed pregnant people to get safer and more accessible healthcare that had previously only been available to the wealthy. That can most prominently be seen in deaths from legal and illegal abortions plummeting after the Supreme Court decision.

PolitiFact

Overturned

On May 2, 2022, Politico released a leaked draft opinion from Supreme Court Justice Alito that would, if finalized, overturn Roe v. Wade; and thus eliminate the national right to get an abortion. The authenticity of this release was confirmed shortly after by Chief Justice Roberts in an official statement, saying, “To the extent this betrayal of the confidences of the court was intended to undermine the integrity of our operations, it will not succeed.” As the head of the Court, his position on the opinion is not yet clear, though his vote is not needed as five out of nine justices voted in favor.

Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, Amy Coney Barrett, and the author of the opinion Samuel Alito have all made their support for overturning Roe official. To be clear: this is not a final decision, Roe v. Wade is still currently in place and it is entirely possible, however unlikely it may be, that one or more of the justices change their vote and decide to uphold the right to bodily autonomy. At this point, many believe it to be inevitable; a final decision is expected to take place sometime during June this year.

Another notable aspect of the leaked opinion was Alito’s criticism of the Court’s previous decisions in Obergefell v. Hodges and Lawrence v. Texas, the former codified the right for same-sex couples to marry, and the latter legalized “sodomy“. On the topic, he said, “These attempts to justify abortion through appeals to a broader right to autonomy and to define one’s ‘concept of existence’ prove too much.” he continued, saying that having this right to bodily autonomy could be used to legalize other things such as “illicit drug use, prostitution, and the like.” While it is unlikely that the court as it is today would overturn gay marriage, at least four justices have openly criticized the landmark ruling that legalized it nationwide. Many are worried that these rights are next on Alito’s proverbial chopping block; however, that is yet to be seen officially.

Impact

In case there is any confusion, if the Supreme Court finalizes its decision, it would not ban abortion; the federal government would cease to protect and enforce the right to get one. This means that it will be left to the individual state legislators to either safeguard or ban the practice. Before discussing the impact nationwide, let’s look at Virginia first. Because abortion would no longer be protected as a legal right, any laws mentioned are subject to change at the behest of a majority in our State Senate and House.

Under current Virginia law, regardless of the Supreme Court, abortions are permitted during the first and second trimesters or the first six months of pregnancy. To be legal, the procedure must be performed by licensed medical staff, and second-trimester abortions have to take place within a hospital “licensed by the State Department of Health or operated by the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services”. During the third trimester, an abortion can only be performed if all of these requirements are met, as well as at least three physicians agree that continuing the pregnancy would kill or “irremediably impair the mental or physical health” of the patient. This information comes directly from the Code of Virginia; you can find further information by checking out the Virginia League of Planned Parenthood.

As a result of the 2021 election, in which Republican Glenn Youngkin was elected as Governor and Republicans achieved a majority in the House of Delegates, these laws are by no means set in stone, or even particularly safe. Youngkin was initially very hesitant to make his position on the issue clear, but in recent months he’s become more open; attending a pro-life rally in Richmond and publicly supporting legislation that would limit access to abortion in Virginia. Currently, the VA Senate is divided 21-19, with Democrats holding a very slim majority, some claim this is the only thing keeping anti-abortion laws such as the failed 20-week ban from last February being put into law.

Even with that said, Virginia is relatively progressive compared to other states across the country. The most recent and prominent example is Oklahoma, whose governor just signed a bill into law that would ban all abortions from conception onward, given the person’s life wasn’t directly threatened by the pregnancy. While it is slightly beyond the scope of this article, it is important to mention how many states would face laws similar to this if Roe is overturned. According to the Guttmacher Institute, as many as twenty-six [states] are likely or certain to ban abortion.”

Protest

The reaction to the leak was strong and almost immediate; the first group to organize a protest was the DC branch of the Democratic Socialists of America (MDCDSA), who met at the steps of the Supreme Court less than four hours after the news dropped, and many more would join them in the days to come. This result is unsurprising when you consider that around 69% of Americans believe that Roe v. Wade should be upheld.

All across the country, Virginia, and here at Hylton students walked out of classes in protest. All due transparency, several of The Watchdog staff were involved in the organization of this protest, including the author of this article. With that in mind, the organizers expressed satisfaction with how the protest turned out. They estimate more than four hundred students attended, alongside speakers such as Virginia State Senator Jeremy McPike and Izzy Thissell, an organizer from Planned Parenthood. Here are some pictures from the protest, which took place on Thursday, May 12. You can find videos of almost all the speeches here, if you repost any part of the videos, please provide credit to the photographer, Thomas Reed.