The issue of a woman's right to chose an abortion is one of the most contentious and one which has most come to represent the debate about the legitimacy of the Supreme Court.
The Roe v Wade decision was one of the most politically important decisions of the twentieth century. It came at a time when the issue of women’s rights was gaining importance and support in the USA. It took on political significance because the issue aligned along party lines as the ‘pro-choice’ lobby (those who supported the decision) became closely associated with the Democratic Party, while the ‘pro-life’ lobby (those who opposed the decision) became closely associated with the Republicans.
The US supreme court reinstated a requirement that women visit a hospital or clinic to obtain a drug used for medication-induced abortions, lifting an order by a lower court allowing the drug to be posted or delivered during the coronavirus pandemic.
The court’s three liberal justices said they would have denied the Trump administration’s request while litigation over the dispute continued in lower courts. The supreme court chief justice, John Roberts, said the dispute was not generally about the right to abortion but rather courts’ deference to government decisions related to the pandemic.
The US Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe vs Wade has highlighted the growing power of its conservative majority and raised questions about how far it might go in reconsidering precedents on other social issues such as contraception and same-sex marriage. The ruling handed down on Friday upheld a state law in Mississippi banning abortion after 15 weeks — and then took a step further to overturn the Roe decision of 1973 that has enshrined the constitutional right to an abortion for nearly 50 years. Justice Samuel Alito, who authored the majority opinion, said that the Roe decision had been “egregiously wrong from the start”, expressing a view held by many conservative legal scholars and activists who have fought a decades-long battle to overturn it. “It is time to heed the constitution and return the issue of abortion to the people’s elected representatives,” he added, in a decision that was joined by fellow conservatives Clarence Thomas, Amy Coney Barrett, Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch. Chief Justice John Roberts joined the court’s judgment, but not the more expansive majority opinion
Michele Goodwin, professor at the University of California, Irvine School of Law, said the court in its decision on Friday has accepted “Mississippi’s invitation to rid the country of a national right . . . such that these issues will now devolve to something that is closest to the time that we had in American slavery, where there were free states and there were states in which people’s . . . independence [and] freedom were not recognised”. The abortion decision also demonstrates the waning power of John Roberts as a moderating influence on his more conservative colleagues. Roberts has in the past seemed eager to broker decisions that avoided seismic changes on divisive social issues, such as the 5-4 ruling that narrowly upheld former president Barack Obama’s signature healthcare law. But his ability to serve as a swing vote has diminished as the court’s conservative wing has grown.