The Overturning of Roe v. Wade and Its Effects in New York

An analysis of The Supreme Court’s act of overturning Roe v. Wade.


Ian Hutchinson / Unsplash

Here is the front façade of the Supreme Court of the United States in Washington, DC.

America, at the moment, is restless with what seems to be the peak of the ongoing fight over abortion rights, after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade on June 24th, 2022. Given the uncertainty that this ruling brings to each individual state in America, there is more alarm and confusion than ever, especially in areas with strong stances on the issue, such as New York City. So, how concerned should New Yorkers be? What exactly is Roe v. Wade, and what did overturning it really mean?

The original case, decided in January of 1973, was in response to the question, “Does the Constitution recognize a woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy by abortion?” Balancing the court’s interest in women’s health and their interest in the “potentiality of human life” led to the precedent that has been used in abortion cases ever since. In the first trimester, states could not ban abortions; in the second trimester, states could set restrictions “reasonably related to maternal health,” but could not ban abortions; in the third trimester, states could ban abortions, unless they risk the life of the mother. This was based on the “viability” of the fetus. 

The case was brought to Supreme Court when a Texan law, banning abortions, was questioned by Jane Roe (an alias used to protect the plaintiff’s identity). Roe claimed that the legislation violated her right to privacy, which was protected by the first, fourth, fifth, ninth, and fourteenth amendments. The Supreme Court, in turn, ruled that abortion was included in a woman’s right to privacy, and banning abortions did, indeed violate Roe’s right to the 14th Amendment. 

The reason that the current Supreme Court took a second look at the 50-year-old ruling had to do with a Mississippi law passed in 2018, which banned abortions after just 15 weeks gestational age (beginning of the second trimester). This was in violation of Roe v. Wade, which, as mentioned above, stated that states cannot ban abortions in the second trimester. When Health State Officer Thomas E. Dobbs challenged the legislature, Mississippi courts ruled in his favor. Mississippi officials, however, brought the case to Supreme Court, as a vehicle to try to overturn past abortion rulings. It’s important to note that during Donald Trump’s presidency, the conservative Republican was presented with the rare opportunity to appoint three new Supreme Court justices. With conservatives now holding a 6-3 majority in the Supreme Court, they were able to reverse fifty years of precedent. 

However, the undecided overture hadn’t gained much notice in the press, until a leaked draft of the decision was published on the Politico news website. The draft stated, pretty decisively, that Roe v. Wade would, in fact, be overturned. The source of the leak was linked to conservative Justice Samuel Alito, and the current direction of the case was confirmed by Chief Justice John Roberts. However, Roberts was clear in saying that the draft represented no final opinion of the court, and should not be taken as the final decision. “To the extent this betrayal of the confidences of the Court was intended to undermine the integrity of our operations, it will not succeed. The work of the Court will not be affected in any way,” he wrote. 

If it really had no effect on the court’s ultimate decision, however, why leak?

The leak, as we see it now from hindsight, had been the cause of the public becoming so involved in the Supreme Court’s decision, as well as the resurgence of abortion rights debates across the country. It had a polarizing effect, with politicians and everyone else taking sides, and state governing bodies preparing legislatures based on the court’s decision. Perhaps this was the reason to release the leak in the first place; creating outrage is a sure way to awaken protestors who disagree with the draft ruling. Someone who is pro-choice, or leans left as far as abortion-related legislation is considered, might hope to use the public to persuade the Supreme Court to change their drafted decision. Those people could see releasing the draft as an opportunity to make a difference where they usually wouldn’t be able to. In the same way, more conservatives might hope to rile support for the decision, intending to solidify the resolution stated in the draft. No matter the intention of the leaker (who remains unknown), both pro-choice and pro-life activists rose in determination to win. 

In fact, the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade on June 24th, 2022, in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization ruling. It’s also important to note that overturning Roe v. Wade did not ban abortions nationwide, just as the upholding of Roe v. Wade did not at all bar states from banning abortions. Instead, it sets guidelines as to when legislature can interfere with the right of a woman to get abortions. Overturning the bill has removed these guidelines, leaving all decisions regarding abortion up to the state governments. The issue arises with all of the states, usually led by conservative Republicans, that are ready to welcome the overturning with new laws that set heavy restrictions on the matter. These so-called “trigger laws” are already being passed in states such as Oklahoma, which passed the most restrictive ban on abortions in history. Oklahoma’s law bans abortions “from the moment life begins at conception,” which violates Roe v. Wade’s rule of viability, as well as its rules against banning abortions in the first trimester. Emily Wales, the president and chief executive of Planned Parenthood Great Plains said, “Oklahoma’s politicians, from the governor on down, are determined to strip rights from anyone who could become pregnant.” Planned Parenthood noted that the day after the six-week ban took effect in Oklahoma, the Tulsa Women’s Reproductive Clinic was forced to cancel 35 appointments and send home 10 patients because the pregnancies were too advanced for the clinic to address without breaking the law’s gestational limits. Although Democrats in Congress drafted legislation that would protect the right to abortions, it failed, due to Republicans filibustering the bill. 

Supporters of the Supreme Court ruling argue that because the constitution says nothing about abortions, and so therefore, according to the Bill of Rights, it is up to the state to decide. Pro-lifers argue that abortions are conducive to murder, and should be prevented at all cost. The issue, however, goes further for some conservatives, such as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. McConnell believes that the overturning of Roe v. Wade could pave the way for a federal ban on abortions, completely flipping the half-century year old precedent set by the Supreme Court ruling made in Roe v. Wade’s case. This extremism is what many pro-choice activists and liberals are worried about. Even some Republicans have expressed that this measure may be taking it too far; after all, it contradicts the constitutional rationale for taking down Roe.

On the other hand, opposers to the Supreme Court ruling (Roe v. Wade supporters) stand by their reasoning, arguing that the government should not be able to make personal medical decisions or verdicts on individual’s bodies. This connects back to Jane Roe’s defense, in which she argued that such decisive legislature against abortions was a violation of her right to privacy. Supporters also uphold their opposition to the religious aspect of abortion bans, arguing for a separation of church and state. Democrats and pro-choicers point out that banning abortions won’t stop them from happening; before Roe v. Wade protected abortion rights, under-the-table operations still happened, and were dangerous, if not life-threatening. Instead of forcing desperate people to seek out illegal and risky abortions, states should be promoting access to safe procedures. Young women around the country, as well as in New York City are concerned that their individuality is being taken from them. Worries about losing control of their very own bodies is something many protestors hope to address. Many people also point out the hypocrisy of pro-lifers, who they say seem to fight endlessly for unborn fetuses, yet are taking steps to restrict LGBTQ youth’s rights, for instance. In addition, the surge in recent mass shootings have caused pro-choice activists to call out the hypocrisy of attempting to save unborn babies, while not protecting the children that are alive and in school by refusing stricter gun-regulations. 

How Does the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization Ruling Affect Us in New York City?

First of all, in 2019, New York became one of the first states to codify the right to abortions with the Reproductive Health Act. In other words, the precedent set by Roe v. Wade was essentially written into law in New York State’s constitution, by treating abortions as a matter of health care. New York’s government also voted to fund the New York Abortion Access Fund (NYAAF), which helps low-income New-Yorkers, as well as abortion-seekers from other states access services more easily. Due to these initiatives, New York has become an asylum for people seeking abortions.

New York City is historically a hub for “blue,” or democratic and liberal citizens, and was actually the first state to legalize abortions, three years before Roe v. Wade was brought to court, in 1970. Because of this, New York City has always been known, not only as a place where abortions are legal, but also as a safe haven for out-of-state abortion seekers. Before they were legalized everywhere, hundreds of thousands of women traveled here seeking safe abortion care. 

Instead of the overturning of Roe v. Wade directly affecting New Yorkers, New York congresspeople are more concerned about the effect that it will have on other states, and what that will mean for New York clinics, as well as for future legislations. For instance, health centers like Planned Parenthood are preparing for an influx of people coming in from outside of the city in search of care. A main concern officials are seeking to address is the issue of impoverished people not being able to afford travel. New York City has been trying to find ways of providing support for low-income patients that would accomplish more than the NYAAF. For instance, they have floated the idea of covering abortion-seekers travel costs, as a plan presented by Attorney General Letitia James. Upon her appointment as governor, Kathy Hochul has take many measures to ensure abortion rights in New York. Other than the creation of the NYAAF, she also required that all health insurance companies cover abortion costs, and even signed into law a bill adding a representative of women’s health service providers to the city’s Public Health and Health Planning Council. Governor Hochul said, “My message to women all across this country is that New York, the State of New York, will always be there for anyone who needs reproductive health care, including an abortion.”

The Supreme Court’s act of overturning Roe v. Wade has, once again, turned the issue of abortions over to the states, and as a result, will probably complicate interstate abortion concerns. One of abortion advocates’ concerns are the measures that many southern and Republican states are taking to prevent people from traveling to other states for abortion care. For instance, a Texan senator is sponsoring legislation that would prevent law enforcement from cooperating with out-of-state investigations into New York doctors who provide legal abortions in the state. Many pro-choice activists also wonder “what’s next?” Could the overturning be the first step in other reversals regarding civil liberties? For now, the New York congress will be able to keep abortions legal in New York State, and will focus on helping abortion-seekers and clinics from other states get the help they need.

Instead of the overturning of Roe v. Wade directly affecting New Yorkers, New York congresspeople are more concerned about the effect that it will have on other states, and what that will mean for New York clinics, as well as for future legislations.