The highest American judiciary body made a decision on Friday to overturn the decision made almost five decades ago that granted constitutional protection to abortion rights.
US President Joe Biden said on Friday that “it’s a sad day for the court and the country” after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision that legalised abortion nationwide.
“With Roe gone, let’s be very clear, the health and life of women across this nation are now at risk,” he said from the White House.
"The court has done what it’s never done before - expressly taking away a constitution right that is so fundamental to so many Americans,” he said.
The White House has been preparing for this moment since a draft of the decision leaked in May. Officials have been huddling with state leaders, advocates, health care professionals and others to prepare for a future without Roe v. Wade.
Now Biden’s plans will be tested in terms of politics and policy. Biden said his administration would defend a woman's right to cross state lines to seek an abortion.
The court ended constitutional protections for abortion that had been in place for nearly 50 years, with the outcome expected to lead to abortion bans in roughly half of the 50 US states.
The decision made by the court's conservative majority, unthinkable just a few years ago, was the culmination of decades of efforts by abortion opponents.
The right side of the court was fortified and emboldened by three appointees of former President Donald Trump.
The ruling came more than a month after the stunning leak of a draft opinion by Justice Samuel Alito indicating the court was prepared to take this momentous step.
It puts the court at odds with a majority of US citizens who favoured preserving Roe, according to opinion polls.
Protests outside the court
A crowd of abortion supporters swelled to the hundreds after the ruling was issued. One chanted into a bullhorn, “legal abortion on demand” and “this decision must not stand.” Some shouted “the Supreme Court is illegitimate."
“It’s a painful day for those of us who support women’s rights,” said Laura Free, an Ithaca resident and women’s rights historian who came to Washington to do research. When she learned of the decision, she said, “I had to come here.”
A competing faction demonstrated in favor of the ruling, holding signs saying "the future is anti-abortion″ and “dismember Roe.”
Garrett Bess, with Heritage Action for America, a lobbying arm of the conservative Heritage Foundation, said his organization would be working in states to continue efforts to limit abortion.
“This has been a long time coming and it’s a welcome decision,” he said.
'Authority with political branches, not courts'
Alito, in the final opinion issued Friday, wrote that Roe and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the 1992 decision that reaffirmed the right to abortion, were wrong the day they were decided and must be overturned.
Authority to regulate abortion rests with the political branches, not the courts, Alito wrote.
Joining Alito were Justices Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett. The latter three justices are Trump appointees. Thomas first voted to overrule Roe 30 years ago.
Chief Justice John Roberts would have stopped short of ending the abortion right, noting that he would have upheld the Mississippi law at the heart of the case, a ban on abortion after 15 weeks, and said no more.
Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan — the diminished liberal wing of the court — were in dissent.
Majority of Americans oppose decision
Thirteen states, mainly in the South and Midwest, already have laws on the books that ban abortion in the event Roe is overturned.
Another half-dozen states have near-total bans or prohibitions after 6 weeks of pregnancy, before many women know they are pregnant.
In roughly a half-dozen other states, the fight will be over dormant abortion bans that were enacted before Roe was decided in 1973 or new proposals to sharply limit when abortions can be performed, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports abortion rights.
More than 90% of abortions take place in the first 13 weeks of pregnancy, and more than half are now done with pills, not surgery, according to data compiled by Guttmacher.
The ruling is expected to disproportionately affect minority women who already face limited access to health care, according to statistics analyzed by The Associated Press.
The decision came against a backdrop of public opinion surveys that find a majority of Americans oppose overturning Roe and handing the question of whether to permit abortion entirely to the states.
Polls conducted by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research and others also have consistently shown about 1 in 10 Americans want abortion to be illegal in all cases.
A majority are in favour of abortion being legal in all or most circumstances, but polls indicate many also support restrictions especially later in pregnancy.
The Biden administration and other defenders of abortion rights have warned that a decision overturning Roe also would threaten other high court decisions in favour of gay rights and even potentially contraception.
The reversal of Roe vs. Wade has caused a massive wave of reactions outside of the US, with the French President Emmanuel Macron saying the decision compromised the rights of women.
"Abortion is a fundamental right for all women. We must protect it. I would like to express my solidarity with all those women whose freedoms have today been compromised by the US Supreme Court," Macron said on Twitter.