Roe v. Wade: What does it all mean?


Photo by: ACLU Idaho

Protesters huddle outside the Idaho state capitol during the “Bans off our Bodies” march on Saturday, May 14.

By: Annabel Lawrence, Staff Reporter/Sports/Investigative

Late Monday, May 2, 2022, the Virginian media company Politico leaked a 98-page draft opinion written by Samuel Alito, the associate justice of the Supreme Court. But this wasn’t just any mundane Supreme Court opinion; if this opinion were to be finalized, the Court would strike down the nearly 50 year-long standing decision of Roe v. Wade, the landmark case for a pregnant woman’s right to abortion in the United States. 

If you are unfamiliar with the case of Roe v. Wade, here are some basic facts: 

  • Roe v. Wade involved the case of Norma McCorvey, who took on the pseudonym “Jane Roe” who became pregnant with her third child in 1969 and wanted an abortion.
  • In her home state of Texas, abortion was illegal except for when necessary to saving a mother’s life. 
  • McCorvey (AKA Roe) and her attorney filed a lawsuit in the U.S. Federal Court, alleging that the law against abortions was unconstitutional.
  • After McCorvey won in the district courts (against district attorney Wade), the state of Texas appealed directly to the United States Supreme Court, where the Court ruled 7-2, in favor of McCorvey.
  • The Supreme court found that under the Fourteenth Amendment, states are prohibited from making laws that infringe on the personal autonomy protections of the first thirteen amendments. The Constitution does not explicitly state a “right to privacy”, but the Supreme Court has often found in cases like Roe that there is a right against “undue government intrusion into fundamental personal issues and decisions”.

Abortion has been one of the most polarizing issues in America since Roe v. Wade, and this new development has only reinvigorated the debate. The issue is messy, often leaking over the confines of traditional bi-partisan lines and into complications of religious beliefs and other factors. The morning after the draft was leaked, Chief Justice John Roberts confirmed that the document is authentic, but emphasized the fact that “the draft does not represent a decision by the Court or the final position of any member on the issues in the case.” 

While of course no final positions have been made yet, it’s important to know that the Republicans, a traditionally anti-abortion party, have a 6-3 majority in the Supreme Court. Currently, four of the other Republicans have expressed agreement in overturning Roe – Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorusch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barett. 

The three Democrats – Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan are said to be working on dissents. Chief Justice John Roberts has not expressed official opinion yet, but even if he sides with the Democrats, there will still be a 5-4 rule in favor of overturning Roe v. Wade. 

Photo by: Fortune
A map created by the Guttmacher Institute highlights each state that has “trigger laws” that will ban abortion in their state if Roe v. Wade is overturned by the Supreme Court in June.

So what does this mean for America? Will abortion become illegal? The short answer is no. By overturning Roe, the Court is overturning the federal, nationwide legality to have an abortion, and instead making it a state’s decision on whether to keep abortion legal. Right now, there are 18 states that have trigger laws, which would make abortion illegal as soon as Roe is overturned. Idaho is included in that list. There will likely be more states who will make abortions illegal if Roe is overturned. 

Still, there will be many states that will continue to allow, and even protect the right to have an abortion. In fact, after Texas enacted a roughly six-week ban on abortion last year, Planned Parenthoods in neighboring states reported a nearly 800 percent increase in Texas abortion patients compared to the prior year. The bottom line is that abortions will not be completely illegal, just far more difficult to obtain. 

Since the leaked draft, one thing has been made clear: people are angry. On May 14th, there were pro-abortion marches in every single state, including a march with record-breaking numbers in Boise. According to a national NBC news poll, (bottom of page 15), almost two-thirds of Americans support legalized abortion, causing many to feel like illegal abortion is unreasonable. Unfortunately, no group is going to be entirely happy with any outcome. Right now, the issue has fallen into the hands of the law. The official Supreme Court hearing will come sometime in June 2022, and only then will the future of abortions in America become clear.