SCOTUS Overturns Roe V. Wade

By Ava Cassidy / News Editor

What happened?

On June 24, the Supreme Court voted to overturn Roe v. Wade, which will give individual states the right to decide whether to ban abortions. Roe v. Wade was overturned in a 5-4 decision while the court ruled 6-3 to uphold a Mississippi ban on abortions after the 15th week of pregnancy. The Roe v. Wade overturn left the decision to ban abortion up to the states while the ruling on the Mississippi abortion ban allowed for the law to go into effect.

What is Roe v. Wade?

In 1973, the Court ruled 7-2 that state regulation of abortion is unconstitutional. The Court decided that Texas statutes that would have made abortion illegal in many instances violated a woman’s right to privacy under the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Roe v. Wade allows abortions until the end of the second trimester of pregnancy. 

In 1992, the case Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey was brought before the Court. In this ruling, the Court decided that restrictions on abortion would remain unconstitutional if they place an “undue burden” on a woman planning to abort an unviable fetus. 

Today’s decision overturned both Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey. 

Why was Roe v. Wade questioned in the first place?

In March of 2018, Mississippi attempted to pass the Gestational Age Act which banned abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. However, on the day that the act was set to take effect, the Jackson Women’s Health Organization (the only licensed abortion clinic in the state) challenged the constitutionality of the law and requested a restraining order, which was soon granted. The district court eventually invalidated the law, and in May of 2021, the Supreme Court agreed to review the case.

How will this affect Tennessee?

Tennessee is one of 13 states with a trigger law, which gives the state the ability to pass legislation banning abortion within 30 days of the SCOTUS decision. 

The Human Life Protection Act, which was passed in 2019, will make it a Class C felony to perform or attempt to perform an abortion. The act bans abortion in all circumstances except for when an “abortion [is] necessary to prevent the death of the pregnant woman or to prevent the serious risk of substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function.” 

What states will ban abortion?

Arkansas, Idaho, Wyoming, Utah, North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Louisiana, Mississippi, Kentucky and Tennessee all have trigger laws, meaning that these 13 states are set to ban or restrict access to abortions. 

Many states also had a ban on abortion in place before the original Roe v. Wade ruling in 1973. In these states, court action will most likely need to be taken to determine whether the pre-Roe ban will go into effect or not. These states are: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Michigan, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Texas, West Virginia and Wisconsin. 

18 states and Washington DC currently have protections in place to keep abortion legal. These states are: Alaska, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington.

When is Tennessee’s next election? Who are the candidates and what are their stances on abortion?

On Aug. 4, Tennessee will hold primaries for Governor, US House of Representatives, Tennessee Senate (odd-numbered districts), and Tennessee House of Representatives. The general election will take place on Nov. 8.   

PITTSBURGH PROTEST: Crowds protest the overturning of Roe v Wade in Pittsburgh on June 24, 2022. Photo courtesy of Creative Commons.

What is the science behind fetal development?

A major facet of the controversy surrounding abortion is the debate over when a fetus has the right to a life. Below is a timeline of fetal development created using information from the Cleveland Clinic.

The First Trimester (conception-12 weeks) 

    Weeks 1-4: 

  • Amniotic sac develops to cushion the growing embryo
  • Placenta develops to transfer nutrients from the mother to the fetus and eliminate the fetus’s waste
  • Mouth, lower jaw, and throat begin developing 
  • Heartbeat begins at the end of the fourth week 
  • Fetus is about ¼ of an inch long after 1 month

    Weeks 5-8:

  • Limbs, eyes, and ears begin to form
  • Bone starts to replace cartilage
  • Central nervous system is well developed
  • Digestive tract and sensory organs begin to form
  • Fetus is about 1 inch long after the 2nd month

    Weeks 9-12

  • Arms, hands, fingers, feet, and toes are fully developed
  • Fetus become mobile
  • Reproductive organs begin to develop
  • Fetus is fully formed by the end of the 3rd month of pregnancy
  • Fetus is roughly 4 inches long 

The Second Trimester (13 weeks-28 weeks) 

    Weeks 13-16

  • Fetal heartbeat is now audible using specialized instruments
  • Nervous system begins to function
  • Sex of fetus can be determined

    Weeks 17-20 

  • Mother may begin to feel fetus moving (“quickening”) as it develops muscles
  • Hair begins to grow

    Weeks 21-24

  • A fetus has a chance to survive if born prematurely after the 23rd week

    Weeks 25-28

  • Fetus continues to mature and moves around frequently 

The Third Trimester (29 weeks-birth) 

  • Fetus continues to gain weight and add body fat
  • Brain and lungs develop
  • Fetus now has reflexes (blinking, turning the head, closing the eyes, responding to sound, etc.) 

Can states pass laws banning you from traveling to other states for an abortion?

Missouri has attempted to pass legislation that would allow individuals to sue anyone helping someone seeking an abortion to travel across state lines, but the law was ultimately blocked by the state’s legislature. 

“The supreme court does not have well-developed case law regarding extraterritorial application of state law,” said David Cohen, a professor at Drexel University’s law school and author an article on inter-state legal issues in the context of abortion, said. However, Cohen also noted that banning travel would go against the US’s basic principles as US citizens have freedom of movement.  

Are any other cases at risk of being overturned?

Many who disagree with the overturning of Roe v. Wade now worry that other landmark cases will be overturned as well. Some feel that court cases like Griswold v. Connecticut, Lawrence v. Texas and Obergefell v. Hodges, which affirmed the right to access birth control, legalized same-sex intercourse and legalized gay marriage, respectively, are now under fire. 

“To ensure that our decision is not misunderstood or mischaracterized, we emphasize that our decision concerns the constitutional right to abortion and no other right. Nothing in this opinion should be understood to cast doubt on precedents that do not concern abortion,” Justice Samuel Alito, who voted to overturn Roe v. Wade, said in his opinion.

However, Justice Clarence Thomas seems to feel differently.

“In future cases, we should reconsider all of this Court’s substantive due process precedents, including Griswold, Lawrence, and Obergefell,” Justice Thomas said.

Justice Alito has further argued that the right to abortion is different from the right to use contraceptives because he feels that abortion takes the fetus’s life while using birth control does not.

What is the future of Planned Parenthood?

Currently, Planned Parenthood as a whole is still operating. However, Planned Parenthood of Tennessee and North Mississippi, which has locations in Nashville, Memphis and Knoxville, is no longer providing in-clinic or medication abortions due to “recent changes in Tennessee law,” but they are offering help anyone who needs an abortion to access it in another state. People in Nashville will either need to travel to Asheville, North Carolina or to Bloomington, Indiana if they need an abortion. Each of these cities are about 4 hours away by car.

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