The U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade on June 24, eliminating the constitutional right to an abortion. This decision is a victory to some, but for others, it’s a travesty. The reversal means that abortion rights are now up to individual states, many of which had “trigger” laws that went into place almost immediately after the new ruling was announced.
The original Roe v. Wade decision removed any state regulation in the first trimester of pregnancy, and allowed regulation but no outlawing in the second trimester. According to 2019 data from the Center for Disease Control, about 93% of abortion procedures occur within the first trimester. In the third trimester, when the fetus is viable (able to live outside of the womb) states could outlaw abortions except in the case to preserve the health of the mother.
Norma McCorvey was the person behind the alias of “Jane Roe” in the infamous case that created these national standards. According to the Smithsonian Magazine, the case began in 1969, when McCorvey became pregnant for the third time. By age 21, the Texas resident had divorced her husband, struggled with substance abuse, and gave birth to her first two children. She gave her mother custody of her first child, put her second child up for adoption, and hoped to have an abortion with her third pregnancy.
The law in Texas at the time was that women could only get an abortion due to threats to the mother’s health. She struggled to find and keep a job as a pregnant woman and did not have the means to travel to another state for a legal abortion. At five months pregnant, she turned to a duo of Dallas lawyers who wanted to challenge Texas’ abortion laws. The district court ruled in McCorvey’s favor but dismissed the request to change the state’s abortion laws.
The case was then brought to the Supreme court, and in 1973, the court issued its ruling in favor of Roe. According to the Legal Information Institute, the Court decided that the right to privacy be applied in the instance of a woman’s pregnancy. The right to privacy is defined as the right “not to have one's personal matters disclosed or publicized” and “against undue government intrusion into fundamental personal issues and decisions.”
Present-day changes across the country
Now, almost half a century later, that right has been removed. The Supreme Court issued a 6-3 ruling on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which overruled Roe v. Wade.
Notably, three of the nine current Justices were appointed by former President Trump. According to NPR legal affairs correspondent, Nina Totenberg, the Supreme court is the most conservative it has been in the last 75 years.
Justice Samuel Alito wrote on behalf of the majority, saying that the original ruling in favor of Roe and following court decisions that reaffirmed abortion rights were "egregiously wrong," and the arguments "exceptionally weak." They emphasized their respect for all stages of prenatal life and clarified that the ruling only affects abortion and “no other right.”
But for many, this feels like a step backward in terms of women’s reproductive rights. The three dissenting Justices expressed their sadness that women today will have fewer rights than their mothers and grandmothers.
They wrote, “"from the very moment of fertilization, a woman has no rights to speak of.” Continuing that, “a state can force her to bring a pregnancy to term even at the steepest personal and familial costs."
According to The New York Times, as of July 12, abortion is now completely banned in at least nine states. A couple of states have banned abortion after six weeks of pregnancy, when a fetal heartbeat can be detected. In several other states, abortion bans or regulation changes are just awaiting a final approval or scheduled date. Almost half of these states have no exceptions for rape or incest and have unclear regulations for instances where the health of the mother is at risk.
Prohibiting abortion is concerning for many, as pregnant women may now opt for unsafe alternative methods. Worldwide, about 23,000 deaths are reported from unsafe abortions each year and tens of thousands more suffer major health complications. Especially with such an abrupt and extreme change in America, the initial effects are worrisome.
Planned Parenthood, a non-profit organization for reproductive healthcare, said, “we’re outraged and devastated — but we’re not backing down.” They encouraged people to take action in any way possible, whether that be protesting, donating to abortion clinics, or sharing resources.
They also stress the importance of removing the stigma surrounding abortions. According to an analysis done by the Guttmacher Institute, 1 in 4 women in the U.S. have an abortion by 45 years old. It’s a difficult experience to open up about, but personal stories are so important in order to “change hearts and minds.”
Abortion rights in Hawaii
Hawaii is one of the states that are maintaining existing access to abortion. Hawaii was actually the first state to legalize abortions back in 1970, even earlier than the Roe v. Wade ruling. The state’s current laws protect the rights to an abortion until viability (around 24 to 26 weeks). Exceptions are allowed past this point in order to “save the pregnant person's life” or “preserve the pregnant person's general health (can include mental health).”
Gov. David Ige continues to stand by women’s reproductive rights, saying that, “despite the ruling, I can assure you that women in Hawaii will continue to have access to the healthcare they need, and that includes abortion.”
This is the time to dissect and clarify your own beliefs. Listen to opposing arguments with an open-mind and realize that no one’s views are pure evil. Both pro-life and pro-choice arguments are rooted in compassion, but disagree on where to focus that concern.
The controversy surrounding abortion often boils down to the question of “when does life begin?” For those believing it begins at conception, abortion at any stage is murder. Others wouldn’t consider a fetus alive until movement, viability, or a first breath. The overturning of Roe v. Wade proves just how difficult it continues to be to reach a consensus on this moral dilemma.
Along with the pro-life vs. pro-choice debate, there are many related issues that should be addressed while the spotlight is here. For example, comprehensive sex education and access to contraception to prevent unwanted pregnancies from occuring in the first place. Improving support for mothers and the adoption system are other major topics worthy of discussion.
Reproductive rights are a hot topic to consider in upcoming elections. It is more important than ever to exercise your right to vote, as major topics like this are now up to each state’s legislature. Stay up to date on the rights available to you at Abortion Finder’s State-by-State Guide.