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SCOTUS Strips Americans of Constitutional Right to Abortion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health

Written by Trish Garner, LWVOR Action Committee

The Supreme Court's decision in Dobbs v Jackson Women's Health has overturned 50 years of precedent and deprives women of the ability to participate equally in our Nation's economic and social life. Its disregard for women's health, privacy and reproductive rights is shocking and untenable.

Woman holding sign in front of government building. Sign reads "Democracy Needs Women".
Hundreds of League members marched in Denver to protest the SCOTUS abortion decision.

The reasons SCOTUS used to justify this decision? First, the word "abortion" isn't explicitly stated in the Constitution. Secondly, it held that because the right to abortion wasn't "deeply rooted" in the law of the land when the 14th Amendment was ratified by "the people" in 1868, the right to abortion can't be protected by the 14th Amendment's guarantee of liberty. Of course, as noted by dissenting Justice Sonia Sotomayor, in 1868 "people" didn't include women.

The fact that the right to an abortion has long been the law of the land also failed to convince the Court to adhere to its own "stare decisis" doctrine, which is Latin for the concept that court rulings should remain as decided unless there is a very good reason for change. The rationale behind this doctrine is that the people need to be able to rely on consistency and integrity in judicial decision making.

In fact, the Dobbs ruling thrusts many previous decisions onto precarious ground.

Although Justice Samuel Alito's opinion summarily dismisses concerns that the Dobbs ruling jeopardizes other decisions based on the 14th Amendment right to liberty, logic dictates otherwise. Justice Sotomayor characterizes this assurance at the level of "Scout's honor."

In fact, the Dobbs ruling thrusts many previous decisions onto precarious ground. Some of these decisions involve rights to: marry a person of a different race (Loving v Virginia, 1967); make decisions about the education of one's children (Pierce v Society of Sisters, 1925); obtain contraception (Griswold v Connecticut, 1965); live in nontraditional family units (Stanley v Illinois, 1972); not to be sterilized without consent (Skinner v Oklahoma ex rel Williamson, 1942); to marry a person of the same sex (Obergefell v Hodges, 2015); and more.

At least in his concurring opinion, Justice Thomas is more forthright. He indicates the Court should reconsider all these precedents.

What can we do? Demand that Oregon enact a state Constitutional Amendment guaranteeing reproductive rights. Support the Women's Health Protection Act, which would provide federal protections to reproductive health services. Be vigilant and make our voices heard.

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