A Texas law banning most abortions that took effect Wednesday after the Supreme Court declined to block its enforcement may challenge Roe v. Wade, the landmark decision that gave people the right to access the procedure, nationwide.
The restrictive “fetal heartbeat bill” bans abortions after six weeks of pregnancy regardless of rape or incest. Abortion rights advocates argue the measure, signed into law by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott in May, was designed to make lawsuits difficult and prevent federal courts from striking it down. Abortion providers say 85% of abortion procedures may be restricted in Texas because of it.
What is Roe v. Wade and why is it controversial?
What is Roe v. Wade?
On Jan. 22, 1973, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of an unmarried Texas woman identified as “Jane Roe.” Wishing to have an abortion safely and legally in a state that prohibited it, Roe brought a class action lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Texas’ criminal abortion laws.
According to court documents, abortions were banned in Texas unless advised by a doctor or to save the life of the mother. The Supreme Court ruled that criminal abortion laws violated the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment “which protects against state action the right to privacy, including a woman’s qualified right to terminate her pregnancy.”
Uptick in abortion restrictions:Texas abortion ban one of dozens intended to challenge Roe v. Wade
What did the decision do?
Roe v. Wade is credited with legalizing abortion across the country.
At the time of the decision, abortion was banned in nearly all states under most circumstances barring dangers to the life or health of the mother, according to a 2013 report by The Washington Post.
Can Roe v. Wade be overturned?
In order to enforce stability of the law, there is little precedent of courts overturning prior decisions. This is especially true of the Supreme Court.
Chief Justice Roberts has advocated for precedence, even for the polarizing topic of abortion. He joined liberal justices on the bench in objecting to the Supreme Court’s inaction over blocking the fetal heartbeat bill and in striking down abortion clinic restrictions in Louisiana last year.
The court agreed to hear arguments from Mississippi officials seeking to overturn Roe v. Wade in July, feeding speculation about the future of the decision. But Neal Devins, a law professor at William & Mary Law School, told USA TODAY in July that he sees “no prospect for Roe being overturned.”
John Vile, a professor and constitutional scholar at Middle Tennessee State University, told USA TODAY the Supreme Court has already compromised on Roe v. Wade.
“Although there is continuing talk about overturning Roe v. Wade, it is important to recognize that the Court has already permitted far greater flexibility in this area than was expected in 1973, particularly with regard to waiting periods, informed consent, and other measures,” Vile said. “It is my understanding that the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeal could yet intervene, so I doubt that we have seen the last of this.”
What have leaders proposed to do about the law?
In a statement Thursday, President Joe Biden called the Supreme Court’s decision an “unprecedented assault on a woman’s constitutional rights.” He directed the Gender Policy Council and other White House agencies to look into possible federal government interventions to ensure pregnant people in Texas have safe, legal access to abortions.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. announced Thursday that Congress will vote on a bill protecting the right to abortions nationwide later this month.
Reach out to Chelsey Cox on Twitter at @therealco.