U.S. Supreme Court Nullifies 'Roe v. Wade,' Walks Back 50 Years of Rights

Two bills in the Ohio legislature could limit or eliminate access to abortion care, but the procedure is still legal right now.

click to enlarge U.S. Supreme Court Nullifies 'Roe v. Wade,' Walks Back 50 Years of Rights
Photo: Mary LeBus

In a landmark decision on June 24, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled to overturn Roe v. Wade, eliminating the federal protection of a patient's right to decide to terminate a pregnancy.

In the decision on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, Justice Samuel Alito follows the same language and logic written in the leaked draft opinion from May. Alito, part of a right-leaning court, writes that the U.S. Constitution does not explicitly spell out the right to an abortion, an unenumerated right. The decision in Dobbs reverses a nearly 50-year-old right granted by Roe v. Wade.

The vote to overturn Roe was 5-4, with Justices Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett joining Alito’s opinion. Chief Justice John Roberts filed a separate opinion that agreed with the court’s decision to uphold the Mississippi law, but he argues the court should not have decided whether the Constitution protects abortion broadly.

Justices Sonia Sotomayer, Elena Kagan, Stephen Breyer filed a joint dissent:

“With sorrow – for this Court, but more, for the many millions of American women who have today lost a fundamental constitutional protection – we dissent.”

Abortion is currently legal in Ohio until 20 weeks gestation, meaning 20 weeks after the point of fertilization, or 22 weeks after the patient’s last menstrual period. But there are laws on the books that could severely limit access to abortions going forward. The 2019 “Heartbeat Bill” passed by the Ohio legislature would limit a patient’s right to terminate a pregnancy after the detection of a fetal heartbeat, about six weeks into a pregnancy before many people know they are pregnant.

Attorney General Dave Yost would need to file a request with a federal judge to lift the block on this bill, but there are other bills Ohio Republicans could prioritize. House Bill 598, which is poised to pass through the legislature, would eliminate access to abortion care almost entirely in the state. HB598 would only permit an abortion in narrow medical cases, offering loose language that makes medical exemptions hazy. Multiple physicians would need to determine the procedure is “necessary to prevent the pregnant individual’s death or a serious risk of the substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function.” Gov. Mike DeWine has said he would sign off on the legislation.

Until Ohio politicians can decide which bill they will put their efforts into right now, abortion can still be accessed in Ohio until 20 weeks gestation, either via medical or surgical methods.

Cleveland Clinic offers up definitions for abortion using two separate methods of the procedure: medication abortion and surgical abortion.

Medical abortions (nine weeks of pregnancy or less): A patient will take two different medicines (usually within a 48-hour period). The medication is given by a healthcare provider and is either taken in the provider’s office or at home (or a combination of both). Your healthcare provider will give you specific instructions about how and when to take the medications.

Surgical abortions: In this type of abortion, a healthcare provider will surgically remove the embryo from the uterus. These types of abortions require mild sedation, local anesthesia (numbing an area) or general anesthesia (fully asleep). Some other terms for surgical abortions are in-clinic abortions, aspiration abortions and dilation and curettage (D&C) abortions. Some reasons patients have a surgical abortion are personal preference, too far along in pregnancy or a failed medical abortion.

Most abortion treatments in Ohio – about 47% –were carried out using Mifepristone in 2020, according to data from the Ohio Department of Health. The number of patients receiving surgical abortion care has gone down while medical abortion care – a combination of pills – has seen a steep increase. In 2015, only 4% of patients were prescribed medical abortions.

Iris Harvey, CEO and president of Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio, pushed back against the decision in a statement released June 24. Harvey said the medical care provider will continue to serve their patients.

“By overturning Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court has now officially given politicians permission to control what we do with our bodies, deciding that we can no longer be trusted to determine the course for our own lives,” Harvey says. “This dangerous and chilling decision can have devastating consequences in Ohio, forcing people to travel hundreds, sometimes thousands, of miles for care or remain pregnant. Nevertheless, you can still seek an abortion in Ohio today. Our patients have and will remain our highest priority.”

In Kentucky, abortion care has been banned outright due to a 2019 "trigger" law. 

The 2019 law bans abortions in Kentucky, except in order to prevent the death of or "the serious, permanent impairment of a life-sustaining organ" of a pregnant person. It does not provide exceptions for abortions in cases of rape or incest.

It also states that any person who performs an abortion or provides medication to terminate a pregnancy can be charged with a Class D felony, which is punishable by up to five years in prison.

Additional rights that revolve around privacy and bodily autonomy could be in jeopardy. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas argued in his concurring opinion that the Supreme Court “should reconsider” its past rulings that codify unenumerated rights to same-sex relationships, same-sex marriage, and contraception access.

City Beat will continue to update this story as more information becomes available.

Stay connected with CityBeat. Subscribe to our newsletters, and follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Google News, Apple News and Reddit.

Send CityBeat a news or story tip or submit a calendar event.

Scroll to read more Ohio News articles


Join CityBeat Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.