Today, the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the 1973 landmark ruling that protected women’s rights to choose an abortion.
The decision determines that there is no longer a federal constitutional right to an abortion, instead leaving the right to the discretion of individual states.
Our experts commented on this historic ruling from their areas of expertise.
“Americans have woken up to the fact that the majority of this country supports legalized access to abortion. After the initial leak of the Dobbs opinion, Americans saw the extent of this support. Now, public reactions to the overturning of Roe will make it crystal clear: the Supreme Court has disregarded the preferences of the majority of people across the country.”
Elizabeth Levy Paluck is professor of psychology and public affairs and deputy director of the Kahneman-Treisman Center for Behavioral Science & Public Policy. Her work has focused on prejudice and conflict reduction, using large-scale field experiments to test theoretically driven interventions.
“This decision is deeply dehumanizing to women. Not only does it obliterate a right to bodily autonomy that women in the U.S. have held for half a century, but it also demeans the decision-making capacity of women. The majority opinion reduces women themselves to mere containers for embryos and fetuses; in addition, it casts women and women’s bodies as threatening, dangerous environments. In truth, the best guarantor of fetal health and well-being is maternal health and well-being. Efforts to restrict access to abortion have the effect of harming women, mothers, children, and families. The U.S. is the only developed country in the world where maternal mortality is rising. Black women in the U.S. are three to four times as likely to die from causes related to pregnancy and childbirth compared to white women. Paradoxically, states with the most restrictive abortion regulations also have the highest rates of maternal mortality, severe maternal morbidity, and infant mortality and some of the worst racial disparities in maternal and infant health. Genuinely pro-life policies would aim to close these gaps, reduce the deaths of all mothers and babies, and preserve families.”
Elizabeth Mitchell Armstrong is associate professor of sociology and public affairs. Her research interests include public health, the history and sociology of medicine, risk in obstetrics, and medical ethics.
“With today’s decision in Dobbs overturning Roe v. Wade, what can now be called the ‘Trump Court’ takes its place among other retrograde predecessors such as the Lochner Court, which initially struck down the New Deal, and the late 19th century court that did much to undo the Reconstruction Amendments. The majority opinion offers nothing new. Rather, it repeats tired criticisms of Roe that themselves have long been criticized. Among other things, the majority’s equation of Roe with Plessy v. Ferguson is appalling. Likewise, its treatment of stare decisis is thin and tendentious. Especially tone deaf is its dismissal of the reliance generations of women have placed on Roe in ordering their lives. What reassurances there are ring hollow. The tone of the opinion is marginally less strident than the leaked version, but only marginally and does little to provide solace concerning the result. The assurance with the decision will have no bearing on other substantive due process rights, such as the right to use contraceptives. Beyond the opinion itself, this decision comes from a Supreme Court that’s composition arose in dubious circumstances. Chief Justice Roberts wrote separately, apparently in an attempt to salvage what legitimacy the Trump Court may have. In my opinion, that effort is far too little and too late.”
Martin Flaherty is a visiting professor of public and international affairs. Flaherty’s work focuses upon constitutional law and history, foreign affairs, and international human rights.
“In the mid-20th century, a majority of the Supreme Court promoted a so-called ‘rights revolution’ that resulted in Roe v. Wade among other major decisions (such as Miranda v. Arizona that was severely weakened just yesterday by the same majority of justices). These cases were premised in the constitutionality of defending the rights of people who were not adequately represented by electoral politics, whether because of societal prejudice or structural inequities that are embedded in political processes. It is a major worry, given how many of these populations being targeted by the Supreme Court are vulnerable to both electoral and legislative majorities, that regaining these rights through more democratic avenues will not be so easy, no matter how popular the ideas and practices are across the country. Other major tenets of that ‘rights revolution’ era are also threatened, from individual privacy rights that include sexuality and marriage, to equal protection rights that include issues such as affirmative action (a matter that will be brought before this court next year) and voting rights. All of this is further concerning for majoritarian democracy given that the Supreme Court’s current ideological split is the result of minority-based institutions tripled over: a Republican Senate majority body that hasn’t represented a majority of American voters since the 20th century, a president that lost the 2016 election by more than 3 million votes, and a broader ‘counter-majoritarian difficulty’ that unelected judges face even in the best of times.”
Paul Frymer is a professor of politics and director of the Program in Law and Public Affairs. His research and teaching interests are broadly in American politics and public policy, engaging specifically in questions of law, civil rights and race, labor and employment, parties and social movements, and historical-institutional development.
“Even if the outcome of this case had become a foregone conclusion, the majority’s chosen reasoning matters greatly for the future stability of constitutional order. As the dissenters note, the abortion jurisprudence of Supreme Court’s past was shaped by the idea that the American public “should never conclude that its constitutional protections hung on by a thread,” nor that a new majority could “alone expunge their rights.” The court insists that further constitutional rights are not threatened by their decision. But in taking the position that abortion does not have a long enough history to merit protection from the Supreme Court, the dissenters may prove prescient in their prediction: ‘all rights that have no history stretching back to the mid-19th century are insecure.’”
Sarah Staszak is a research scholar and lecturer in public and international affairs. Her research and teaching interests are at the intersection of public law, policy, and American political development.