Roe is gone: What happens now?
Roe v. Wade is in the history books. A new Supreme Court decision, Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, is now the shorthand for the state of women's reproductive rights in the United States. The 6-3 decision has wiped out a constitutional protection that lasted almost a half-century and has given the states the right that Mississippi, Texas and others have claimed: exclusively to decide whether abortion will be legal within their boundaries, and when and for which pregnant women.
The change in the legal, medical and social landscape is as far-reaching as an earthquake or a hurricane, and now it is the day after. The ending of Roe did not include guidance, just that — the end.
What happens now will be up to all Americans, whether they cheered the decision or deplored it. The implications are vast for women but also for their families, medical providers, lawmakers, courts, candidates and religious institutions. Unless Congress agrees with President Biden, who called for restoration of national protections by enacting federal law, states are on their own. The test of their commitment to their principles will be whether anti-abortion states create new structures to support the unborn lives they have determined to save.
One thing which must not happen, and which we trust women — and men — will not allow to happen, is for women to become second-class citizens whose right to make personal decisions is incomplete, compared to the freedoms of men. In the 49 years since the Supreme Court made Roe the law of the land, women's status vs. that of men has inexorably moved toward greater equitability. That must not be lost.
The only equity that suffices in a democracy is complete equality before the law and in society. And that is a matter of more than just politics. It means not having a policy, or a lack of policy, that abandons women with few resources to find their own means. If honestly followed to its logical conclusion, it means taxpayer support for pregnant women and their children. It means government-supported child care, health care and preschool.
For women to retain the right to choose, they must have actual choices. Opponents of contraception, including the Catholic Church, need to examine their consciences about birth control, which narrowly missed being allowed by the church for married couples in the 1960s. Married or not, how many women would not have considered abortion because there was no pregnancy in the first place? A pregnancy caused by rape is not a choice. Life-threatening pregnancies call for horrific choices for women and their doctors, yet some states' laws are vague about the physician's culpability if someone questions the decision. Are state lawmakers up to this?
For the forseeable future, women in some states will have the option of an abortion while in others they will not. In anticipation of the high court's decision, the Connecticut legislature recently reaffirmed the availability of legal abortion in the state, and the governor took it upon himself to assure women who travel here for the procedure they will have access.
Critics and courts have found much to question in Roe v. Wade in the past half-century. While it gave women reproductive self-determination, it did nothing to address the genuine dilemma that abortion opponents point out: the termination of a pregnancy prevents a human life from developing. A majority of Americans, when asked, say they want abortions to be legal but limited. What that means will be up to the states.
Americans are about to live in a time when there are states that allow abortion on demand and those that allow almost none. We are already living through a lengthy period of cultural and social divisiveness, which this split will only exacerbate. It is yet another step toward a dangerous alienation within our society.
The months and years ahead will be filled with protests, court cases and arguments about constitutionality and states' rights. The Supreme Court majority knew this would be the case if they threw out Roe v. Wade, and they rejected Chief Justice John Roberts' argument that there was an alternative way to allow Mississippi's claim. So here we are.
It is easy to villainize folks who disagree with what one's own conscience is saying. Women in need of help and counsel need to know that they are not being abandoned.
The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Managing Editor Izaskun E. Larrañeta, staff writer Erica Moser and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.