Overturning Roe v. Wade – Some of the Dissent

I did a quick read through of the dissent in today’s decision and they don’t mince words. Here are a few highlights to get you going…


“The first problem with the majority’s account comes from JUSTICE THOMAS’s concurrence—which makes clear he is not with the program. In saying that nothing in today’s opinion casts doubt on non-abortion precedents, JUSTICE THOMAS explains, he means only that they are not at issue in this very case. See ante, at 7 (“[T]his case does not present the opportunity to reject” those precedents). But he lets us know what he wants to do when they are. “[I]n future cases,” he says, “we should reconsider all of this Court’s substantive due process precedents, including Griswold, Lawrence, and Obergefell.” Ante, at 3; see also supra, at 25, and n. 6. And when we reconsider them? Then “we have a duty” to “overrul[e] these demonstrably erroneous deci- sions.” Ante, at 3. So at least one Justice is planning to use the ticket of today’s decision again and again and again.

Even placing the concurrence to the side, the assurance in today’s opinion still does not work. Or at least that is so if the majority is serious about its sole reason for overturning Roe and Casey: the legal status of abortion in the 19th century. Except in the places quoted above, the state interest in protecting fetal life plays no part in the majority’s analysis. To the contrary, the majority takes pride in not expressing a view “about the status of the fetus.”…  The majority’s departure from Roe and Casey rests instead—and only—on whether a woman’s decision to end a pregnancy involves any Fourteenth Amendment liberty interest (against which Roe and Casey balanced the state interest in preserving fetal life).

According to the majority, no liberty interest is present— because (and only because) the law offered no protection to the woman’s choice in the 19th century. But here is the rub. The law also did not then (and would not for ages) protect a wealth of other things. It did not protect the rights recognized in Lawrence and Obergefell to same-sex intimacy and marriage. It did not protect the right recognized in Loving to marry across racial lines. It did not protect the right recognized in Griswold to contraceptive use. For that matter, it did not protect the right recognized in Skinner v. Okla- homa ex rel. Williamson, 316 U. S. 535 (1942), not to be sterilized without consent. So if the majority is right in its legal analysis, all those decisions were wrong, and all those matters properly belong to the States too—whatever the particular state interests involved. And if that is true, it is impossible to understand (as a matter of logic and principle) how the majority can say that its opinion today does not threaten—does not even “undermine”—any number of other constitutional rights. Ante, at 32.8

Nor does it even help just to take the majority at its word. Assume the majority is sincere in saying, for whatever reason, that it will go so far and no further. Scout’s honor. Still, the future significance of today’s opinion will be decided in the future. And law often has a way of evolving without regard to original intentions—a way of actually following where logic leads, rather than tolerating hard-to- explain lines. Rights can expand in that way. Dissenting in Lawrence, Justice Scalia explained why he took no comfort in the Court’s statement that a decision recognizing the right to same-sex intimacy did “not involve” same-sex marriage. 539 U. S., at 604. That could be true, he wrote, “only if one entertains the belief that principle and logic have nothing to do with the decisions of this Court.” Id., at 605. Score one for the dissent, as a matter of prophecy. And logic and principle are not one-way ratchets. Rights can contract in the same way and for the same reason—because whatever today’s majority might say, one thing really does lead to another. We fervently hope that does not happen because of today’s decision. We hope that we will not join Justice Scalia in the book of prophets. But we cannot understand how anyone can be confident that today’s opinion will be the last of its kind.

Consider, as our last word on this issue, contraception. The Constitution, of course, does not mention that word. And there is no historical right to contraception, of the kind the majority insists on. To the contrary, the American legal landscape in the decades after the Civil War was littered with bans on the sale of contraceptive devices. So again, there seem to be two choices. See supra, at 5, 26–27. If the majority is serious about its historical approach, then Gris- wold and its progeny are in the line of fire too. Or if it is not serious, then . . . what is the basis of today’s decision? If we had to guess, we suspect the prospects of this Court approving bans on contraception are low. But once again, the future significance of today’s opinion will be decided in the future. At the least, today’s opinion will fuel the fight to get contraception, and any other issues with a moral dimension, out of the Fourteenth Amendment and into state legislatures.9

Anyway, today’s decision, taken on its own, is catastrophic enough. As a matter of constitutional method, the majority’s commitment to replicate in 2022 every view about the meaning of liberty held in 1868 has precious little to recommend it. Our law in this constitutional sphere, as in most, has for decades upon decades proceeded differently. It has considered fundamental constitutional principles, the whole course of the Nation’s history and traditions, and the step-by-step evolution of the Court’s precedents. It is disciplined but not static. It relies on accumulated judgments, not just the sentiments of one long-ago generation of men (who themselves believed, and drafted the Constitution to reflect, that the world progresses). And by doing so, it includes those excluded from that olden conversation, rather than perpetuating its bounds.

As a matter of constitutional substance, the majority’s opinion has all the flaws its method would suggest. Because laws in 1868 deprived women of any control over their bodies, the majority approves States doing so today. Because those laws prevented women from charting the course of their own lives, the majority says States can do the same again. Because in 1868, the government could tell a pregnant woman—even in the first days of her pregnancy—that she could do nothing but bear a child, it can once more impose that command. Today’s decision strips women of agency over what even the majority agrees is a contested and contestable moral issue. It forces her to carry out the State’s will, whatever the circumstances and whatever the harm it will wreak on her and her family. In the Fourteenth Amendment’s terms, it takes away her liberty. Even before we get to stare decisis, we dissent.

…The standards Roe and Casey set out are perfectly workable. No changes in either law or fact have eroded the two decisions. And tens of millions of American women have relied, and continue to rely, on the right to choose. So under traditional stare decisis principles, the majority has no special justification for the harm it causes.

And indeed, the majority comes close to conceding that point. The majority barely mentions any legal or factual changes that have occurred since Roe and Casey. It suggests that the two decisions are hard for courts to implement, but cannot prove its case. In the end, the majority says, all it must say to override stare decisis is one thing: that it believes Roe and Casey “egregiously wrong.” Ante, at 70. That rule could equally spell the end of any precedent with which a bare majority of the present Court disagrees.

So how does that approach prevent the “scale of justice” from “waver[ing] with every new judge’s opinion”? 1 Blackstone 69. It does not. It makes radical change too easy and too fast, based on nothing more than the new views of new judges. The majority has overruled Roe and Casey for one and only one reason: because it has always despised them, and now it has the votes to discard them. The majority thereby substitutes a rule by judges for the rule of law.


Anyone concerned about workability should consider the majority’s substitute standard. The majority says a law regulating or banning abortion “must be sustained if there is a rational basis on which the legislature could have thought that it would serve legitimate state interests.” Ante, at 77. And the majority lists interests like “respect for and preservation of prenatal life,” “protection of maternal health,” elimination of certain “medical procedures,” “mitigation of fetal pain,” and others. Ante, at 78. This Court will surely face critical questions about how that test applies. Must a state law allow abortions when necessary to protect a woman’s life and health? And if so, exactly when? How much risk to a woman’s life can a State force her to incur, before the Fourteenth Amendment’s protection of life kicks in? Suppose a patient with pulmonary hyper- tension has a 30-to-50 percent risk of dying with ongoing pregnancy; is that enough? And short of death, how much illness or injury can the State require her to accept, consistent with the Amendment’s protection of liberty and equality? Further, the Court may face questions about the application of abortion regulations to medical care most people view as quite different from abortion. What about the morning-after pill? IUDs? In vitro fertilization? And how about the use of dilation and evacuation or medication for miscarriage management?…


The disruption of overturning Roe and Casey will therefore be profound. Abortion is a common medical procedure and a familiar experience in women’s lives. About 18 percent of pregnancies in this country end in abortion, and about one quarter of American women will have an abortion before the age of 45.22 Those numbers reflect the predictable and life-changing effects of carrying a pregnancy, giving birth, and becoming a parent. As Casey understood, people today rely on their ability to control and time pregnancies when making countless life decisions: where to live, whether and how to invest in education or careers, how to allocate financial resources, and how to approach intimate and family relationships. Women may count on abortion access for when contraception fails. They may count on abortion access for when contraception cannot be used, for example, if they were raped. They may count on abortion for when something changes in the midst of a pregnancy, whether it involves family or financial circumstances, un- anticipated medical complications, or heartbreaking fetal diagnoses. Taking away the right to abortion, as the majority does today, destroys all those individual plans and expectations. In so doing, it diminishes women’s opportunities to participate fully and equally in the Nation’s political, social, and economic life. See Brief for Economists as Amici Curiae 13 (showing that abortion availability has “large effects on women’s education, labor force participation, occupations, and earnings”.

…That is especially so for women without money. When we “count[] the cost of [Roe’s] repudiation” on women who once relied on that decision, it is not hard to see where the greatest burden will fall. Casey, 505 U. S., at 855. In States that bar abortion, women of means will still be able to travel to obtain the services they need.25 It is women who cannot afford to do so who will suffer most. These are the women most likely to seek abortion care in the first place. Women living below the federal poverty line experience unintended pregnancies at rates five times higher than higher income women do, and nearly half of women who seek abortion care live in households below the poverty line.

Withdrawing a woman’s right to choose whether to con- tinue a pregnancy does not mean that no choice is being made. It means that a majority of today’s Court has wrenched this choice from women and given it to the States. To allow a State to exert control over one of “the most intimate and personal choices” a woman may make is not only to affect the course of her life, monumental as those effects might be. Id., at 851. It is to alter her “views of [herself]” and her understanding of her “place[] in society” as someone with the recognized dignity and authority to make these choices. Id., at 856. Women have relied on Roe and Casey in this way for 50 years. Many have never known anything else. When Roe and Casey disappear, the loss of power, control, and dignity will be immense.

The Court’s failure to perceive the whole swath of expectations Roe and Casey created reflects an impoverished view of reliance. According to the majority, a reliance interest must be “very concrete,” like those involving “property” or “contract.” Ante, at 64. While many of this Court’s cases addressing reliance have been in the “commercial context,” Casey, 505 U. S., at 855, none holds that interests must be analogous to commercial ones to warrant stare decisis protection.28 This unprecedented assertion is, at bottom, a radical claim to power. By disclaiming any need to consider broad swaths of individuals’ interests, the Court arrogates to itself the authority to overrule established legal principles without even acknowledging the costs of its decisions for the individuals who live under the law, costs that this Court’s stare decisis doctrine instructs us to privilege when deciding whether to change course.

The majority claims that the reliance interests women have in Roe and Casey are too “intangible” for the Court to consider, even if it were inclined to do so. Ante, at 65. This is to ignore as judges what we know as men and women. The interests women have in Roe and Casey are perfectly, viscerally concrete. Countless women will now make differ- ent decisions about careers, education, relationships, and whether to try to become pregnant than they would have when Roe served as a backstop. Other women will carry pregnancies to term, with all the costs and risk of harm that involves, when they would previously have chosen to obtain an abortion. For millions of women, Roe and Casey have been critical in giving them control of their bodies and their lives. Closing our eyes to the suffering today’s decision will impose will not make that suffering disappear. The majority cannot escape its obligation to “count[ ] the cost[s]” of its decision by invoking the “conflicting arguments” of “contending sides.” Casey, 505 U. S., at 855; ante, at 65. Stare decisis requires that the Court calculate the costs of a decision’s repudiation on those who have relied on the decision, not on those who have disavowed it. See Casey, 505 U. S., at 855.

After today, young women will come of age with fewer rights than their mothers and grandmothers had. The majority accomplishes that result without so much as considering how women have relied on the right to choose or what it means to take that right away. The majority’s refusal even to consider the life-altering consequences of reversing Roe and Casey is a stunning indictment of its decision.


Justice Jackson once called a decision he dissented from a “loaded weapon,” ready to hand for improper uses. Korematsu v. United States, 323 U. S. 214, 246 (1944). We fear that today’s decision, departing from stare decisis for no legitimate reason, is its own loaded weapon. Weakening stare decisis threatens to upend bedrock legal doctrines, far beyond any single decision. Weakening stare decisis creates profound legal instability. And as Casey recognized, weakening stare decisis in a hotly contested case like this one calls into question this Court’s commitment to legal principle. It makes the Court appear not restrained but aggressive, not modest but grasping. In all those ways, today’s decision takes aim, we fear, at the rule of law.

Now a new and bare majority of this Court—acting at practically the first moment possible—overrules Roe and Casey. It converts a series of dissenting opinions expressing antipathy toward Roe and Casey into a decision greenlighting even total abortion bans. See ante, at 57, 59, 63, and nn. 61–64 (relying on former dissents). It eliminates a 50-year-old constitutional right that safeguards women’s freedom and equal station. It breaches a core rule-of-law principle, designed to promote constancy in the law. In doing all of that, it places in jeopardy other rights, from contraception to same-sex intimacy and marriage. And finally, it undermines the Court’s legitimacy.


In overruling Roe and Casey, this Court betrays its guiding principles.

With sorrow—for this Court, but more, for the many millions of American women who have today lost a fundamental constitutional protection—we dissent.”


Read the full decision and dissent.  https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/21pdf/19-1392_6j37.pdf

Comments | 2

  • Disheartened, Discouraged, Disgusted

    There has been a string of awful things for 42 years now and I have no idea wtf. I just go from shock to shock like a pinball.

  • "Which side are you on? Which side are you on?"

    Our opinions don’t matter unless we are a praying public school straight white male with a gun. Hopefully we (straight white praying in public school males with guns) can own serfs soon, eh? Maybe punishments from crimes could revert back to the Middle Ages, too. “How do we know she had an abortion? She floated!”

    Really seems like the court un-United the States, which means we are technically now in a civil war again. Not something I would have expected as a younger person. I was born into an era of giving rights to people – this taking everything away in a week is astounding and horrifying.

    “It’s on the ballot this fall!”

    Um, it was on the ballot before, too.

    Obama had a supermajority in Congress and dismissed women’s rights https://www.reuters.com/article/obama-abortion/obama-says-abortion-rights-law-not-a-top-priority-idUKN2946642020090430 in favor of helping bankers.

    “As a candidate, Obama supported the Freedom of Choice Act, which would eliminate federal, state and local restrictions on abortion…. Asked about the Freedom of Choice Act at Wednesday’s news conference, Obama said it “is not the highest legislative priority.””

    I want to see some real, radical action from politicians PRIOR to the election this fall. Like, starting TODAY. NOW. NOT A DRILL. Lives are in danger due to these recent decisions.

    And lying under oath, multiple times to multiple Senators, should be grounds for removal from office.

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