According to a leaked draft opinion, the Supreme Court privately voted to strike down Roe v. Wade, a 1973 ruling that established the right to abortion. Here’s a breakdown of what abortion is, what overturning Roe means, and what will happen if and when the decision goes into effect.
News recently broke that the Supreme Court privately voted to strike down Roe v. Wade, a Supreme Court decision that established the right to have an abortion under the 14th Amendment.
Politico obtained the draft opinion after it was leaked by an unknown source — a first in the Supreme Court’s modern history. (And no, SCOTUS isn’t happy about it.)
According to a press release issued by the SCOTUS Office of Public Information, the document is authentic but does not represent the final position of the Court. (We’ve all written 18 drafts of an essay, right?).
Still, the draft opinion could very well become the final opinion, leaving many wondering what this means going forward.
Here’s what you need to know about Roe v. Wade and the Supreme Court’s draft decision, plus six ways you can take action.
The 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision established the constitutional right to have an abortion in the first trimester. That meant no state could impose regulations on abortions in the first 13 weeks of pregnancy.
A subsequent case, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, reaffirmed the Roe decision but changed the framework a bit.
In Casey, SCOTUS decided that states can’t create laws that pose an undue burden on (in other words, make it super hard for) a person seeking an abortion before fetal viability (the point at which a baby can officially survive outside the birthing parent’s body).
Fetal viability is typically considered about 24 weeks of pregnancy, but there isn’t a defined cutoff — so it might vary from state to state.
If the draft opinion remains unchanged, both Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey would be overturned.
Already fully informed? Jump here to learn how to take action.
Simply put, abortion is a way of ending a pregnancy.
However, abortion is not a one-size-fits-all procedure. The abortion method a person gets depends on their unique personal and medical circumstances.
You can usually use abortion pills to terminate a pregnancy until the 10th week of pregnancy.
Abortion pills are generally made up of two drugs: mifepristone and misoprostol. They work together to terminate a pregnancy. Mifepristone blocks the hormone progesterone that supports a pregnancy. Meanwhile, misoprostol causes the uterus to contract and the cervix to soften.
A person may opt to use abortion pills because this is a noninvasive, low risk, and private way to end a pregnancy. It’s also up to 98 percent effective in most cases, but if you’d like a more specific breakdown, the pill has been found to work:
- 94 to 98 percent of the time in people up to 8 weeks pregnant
- 94 to 96 percent of the time in people 8 to 9 weeks pregnant
- 91 to 93 percent of the time in people 9 to 10 weeks pregnant
Vacuum aspiration (aka suction aspiration) abortion
Suction abortion can usually be used until about 14 to 16 weeks into a pregnancy.
During a vacuum aspiration abortion, a healthcare professional will use suction to gently remove products of conception from the uterus. This may be performed at a clinic, hospital, or doctor’s office.
Some people opt for this type of abortion because it’s extremely effective — it works about 99 percent of the time. Others may prefer this method because it’s performed in a medical setting and generally takes only 5 to 10 minutes.
Dilation and evacuation (D&E)
D&E is usually used after the 14th week of pregnancy.
During a D&E abortion, a healthcare professional will use a combo of surgical tools and (sometimes) suction to remove the products of conception.
First, they will dilate (widen) the cervix. Then, they will use forceps or suction to remove the placenta and tissue. After this is done, they will use a tool called a curette to gently scrape the uterine lining.
In the United States, D&E abortions must be done in a medical clinic or hospital.
Someone may opt for a D&E in the second trimester if a fetus has severe abnormalities or medical problems. Another common reason, according to the Guttmacher Institute, is that someone might have faced delays in accessing abortion care earlier in pregnancy.
If Roe is overturned, abortion will no longer be considered a constitutionally protected right, so the legal status of abortion — regardless of the stage of pregnancy — will be up to each individual state.
This is a big change. The Roe v. Wade decision has set the precedent for abortion laws for almost 50 years.
Why this matters
- According to the World Health Organization (WHO), without access to safe abortions, people resort to unsafe abortion methods, which cause 13 percent of maternal deaths globally.
- Medical experts believe that the decision to have an abortion should remain between a pregnant person and their physician.
- An estimated 1 in 4 women are expected to have an abortion at some point.
- In 2017, approximately 862,320 abortions were performed in the United States.
- An estimated 10 to 15 percent of pregnancies end in miscarriage. In an incomplete miscarriage, only some products of conception leave the body during the miscarriage. An abortion may be required to remove these remaining tissues. If not, a person may be at an increased risk of infection and long-lasting bleeding.
Nope. Each individual state would decide whether abortion is legal. They’d also add their own set of restrictions and exceptions. But many states would continue to allow abortion.
Reminder: As of right now, abortion is legal in every single state, with varying time frames and other restrictions.
At this point, it’s hard to say which states would make abortion illegal. However, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights, roughly half the states would ban abortion if they were allowed to.
PSA: Thirteen states have already passed “trigger laws.” These are currently unenforceable laws that would make abortion illegal as soon as Roe is overturned. In other states, the effects might not be as immediate.
This chart details some of the requirements and restrictions a person may face while trying to obtain abortion access. Just keep in mind that abortion laws and restrictions are constantly changing.
|Must be performed by licensed physician||In-person counseling prior to abortion||Required counseling on medical abortion reversal||Waiting period after counseling||Guardian involvement required for minors|
|Florida||X||X||24 hours||notice and consent|
|North Carolina||X||72 hours||consent|
|North Dakota||X||X||24 hours||consent|
|Oklahoma||X||X||72 hours||notice and consent|
|South Carolina||X||24 hours||consent|
|South Dakota||X||X||72 hours||notice|
|Texas||X||X||24 hours||notice and consent|
|Utah||X||X||X||72 hours||notice and consent|
|Virginia||notice and consent|
|West Virginia||24 hours||notice|
|Wyoming||X||notice and consent|
* applies only to surgical abortion
This chart can help you understand the current limitations on abortion, based on how far into a pregnancy someone is:
|Until 6 weeks||Until 20 weeks||Until 24 weeks||Until viability|
FYI: Some states make exceptions based on fetal abnormalities, rape, or incest, or when a pregnant person’s physical health is being threatened.
Abortions are lifesaving
For many, abortion is a lifesaving healthcare procedure.
According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, abortion is sometimes the only way to save the life of a person facing serious pregnancy complications like placental abruption, preeclampsia or eclampsia, and cardiac or renal conditions.
Additionally, making abortions illegal won’t necessarily stop them from happening. According to the WHO, people who can’t access safe, timely, affordable, nearby, nondiscriminatory abortion often resort to unsafe abortion methods. In fact, 45 percent of all induced abortions are performed by untrained professionals or in unsafe conditions. This is a big deal because 13 percent of all maternal deaths are caused by unsafe abortions.
Abortion is a fundamental human right
According to the WHO, lack of abortion care “risks violating a range of human rights of women and girls, including the right to life; the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health; the right to benefit from scientific progress and its realization; the right to decide freely and responsibly on the number, spacing and timing of children; and the right to be free from torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and punishment.”
Additionally, economists argue that having access to abortion has given women the opportunity to attain higher levels of education, employment, and economic security.
Abortion bans disproportionately affect minorities
The United States has one of the highest maternal mortality rates among developed nations, and Black women are three times more likely to die during childbirth than white women.
Research shows that the Black maternal mortality rate was significantly higher before abortion was legalized, suggesting that a ban on abortions could cause it to increase again.
Other research suggests that abortion legalization led to increased high school graduation, college attendance, and employment rates for Black women.
“We will never ever live in a country with racial justice, economic justice, or gender parity without full access to reproductive freedom for every person,” says Amelia Bonow, the founding director of Shout Your Abortion.
According to Bonow, abortion access in a post-Roe world is going to come down to whether a person can travel. However, she also notes that abortion bans will have a major impact on everyone, not just those who don’t have the means to travel to a clinic.
“It’s time to start learning to take care of ourselves and each other,” says Bonow.
Some think abortion is akin to taking a life
“Anti-abortion” describes those who believe abortion should be illegal. Many people who are anti-abortion believe life starts at conception and that abortion ends that life.
Some believe abortion should be allowed under certain circumstances — for example, if a pregnancy is putting the life of the pregnant person at risk or if a child has become pregnant as a result of rape.
However, others maintain that abortion should be illegal under any circumstance, including rape, incest, fetal abnormalities, and instances in which a pregnant person is underage.
Abortion could be harmful to mental health
While there isn’t much research to support this, some argue that a person who has an abortion may experience regret, distress, or mental health issues later in life.
One study published in 2000 found that post-abortion instances of regret, psychological problems, and mental health issues were low, with 72 percent of participants reporting more benefit than harm from their abortion.
Another study from 2020, which included 667 women who had received an abortion, found that 99 percent of those surveyed felt they made the right decision and experienced no emerging negative emotions 5 years after the abortion.
Critiques of these studies have pointed out that data fails to consider long-term effects and doesn’t consider the number of people who declined to participate in the study.
Abortion doesn’t always consider both partners
While abortion supporters argue that the choice to give birth is a human right unique to the individual, some think this silences the opinion of the nonpregnant person in the conception equation (aka whoever contributed the sperm that lead to conception and pregnancy).
OK, we gave you a lot to digest. If you feel so moved, here are six realistic ways you can support pro-abortion causes.
1. Support independent clinics
Independent clinics serve about 3 in 5 people who have an abortion, according to the Abortion Care Network. Many are underfunded and at risk of closure. Your donation could help cover security improvements, building repairs, rent money, legal costs, and new equipment.
2. Donate to abortion funds
Medical abortion generally costs anywhere from $50 to $500. This does not include transportation, safe housing, missed work, or child care costs. Check out the National Network of Abortion Funds’ website for ways to find abortion funds you can support.
3. Share info about abortion pills
Abortion pills are a safe and effective way to terminate a pregnancy. And you do not have to be pregnant to order them. Plan C Pills — a nonprofit sponsored by the National Women’s Health Network — has an extensive guide to help you find the pills in your state on its website.
4. Protect yourself legally
Abortion is still legal in all 50 states. But it’s always a good idea to be as informed as possible about the laws and restrictions in your state. The Repro Legal Helpline offers free legal information from attorneys and advocates to help you navigate complex laws.
5. Distribute fliers and signs in your area
Shout Your Abortion offers a free digital tool kit on their website to help you spread the word online. They also encourage people to use #AbortionPillsForever when sharing info on social media.
Additionally, you can print posters, signs, stickers, and more to disperse in your local communities.
If Roe v. Wade is overturned, states will be able to create their own abortion legislation. Mark your calendar for any upcoming elections in your area and vote for state representatives who support legal abortion (you can find your state’s election website here).
- If the Supreme Court’s draft decision on Roe v. Wade eventually becomes the final decision, abortion will no longer be a constitutionally protected right. Many states are already planning to make abortion illegal or add restrictions to make it harder to get one.
- Abortion, like any other health concern, is complex and deeply personal, which is why medical experts believe the decision should remain between a pregnant person and their doctor.
- If you want to support pro-abortion protection efforts, there are plenty of impactful ways to participate.