“From the Very Moment of Fertilization, a Woman Has No Rights to Speak Of”

The Supreme Court’s liberal justices write with sorrow and anger, for the “many millions of American women who have today lost a fundamental constitutional protection.”

Mother Jones illustration; Erin Schaff/The New York Times/AP

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On Friday, the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, wiping out the constitutional right to abortion that had been in place for nearly 50 years. The ruling, which had been expected since May after Politico published a leak of the opinion, will have intensely personal ramifications throughout the country, particularly in states that have been working toward this moment for decades. In some states, abortion will be banned almost immediately.

The court’s three liberal members dissented—most notably with “sorrow” for the “many millions of American women who have today lost a fundamental constitutional protection.”

The 66-page dissent, written by Justices Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan, and Sonia Sotomayor, is impassioned and scathing, capturing the devastating effects the court’s ruling will have on American life. It also warned that today’s ruling is far from the end, but rather the beginning of an aggressive assault on people’s general right to personal privacy. 

You can read the whole dissent, and opinion, here. Here are the strongest passages from the dissent:

  • “Whatever the exact scope of the coming laws, one result of today’s decision is certain: the curtailment of women’s rights, and of their status as free and equal citizens.”
  • “After today, young women will come of age with fewer rights than their mothers and grandmothers had. The majority accomplishes that result without so much as considering how women have relied on the right to choose or what it means to take that right away. The majority’s refusal even to consider the life-altering consequences of reversing Roe and Casey is a stunning indictment of its decision.”
  • “Today, the Court…says that from the very moment of fertilization, a woman has no rights to speak of. A State can force her to bring a pregnancy to term, even at the steepest personal and familial costs.”
  • “The Court reverses course today for one reason and one reason only: because the composition of this Court has changed…Today, the proclivities of individuals rule. The Court departs from its obligation to faithfully and impartially apply the law. We dissent.”
  • “Most threatening of all, no language in today’s decision stops the Federal Government from prohibiting abortions nationwide, once again from the moment of conception and without exceptions for rape or incest. If that happens, ‘the views of [an individual State’s] citizens’ will not matter.”
  • “No one should be confident that this majority is done with its work. The right Roe and Casey recognized does not stand alone. To the contrary, the Court has linked it for decades to other settled freedoms involving bodily integrity, familial relationships, and procreation. Most obviously, the right to terminate a pregnancy arose straight out of the right to purchase and use contraception. In turn, those rights led, more recently, to rights of same-sex intimacy and marriage. They are all part of the same constitutional fabric, protecting autonomous decision-making over the most personal of life decisions. 
  • “Today’s decision strips women of agency over what even the majority agrees is a contested and contestable moral issue. It forces her to carry out the State’s will… it takes away her liberty.”
  • “As of today, this Court holds, a State can always force a woman to give birth, prohibiting even the earliest abortions…Some women, especially women of means, will find ways around the State’s assertion of power. Others—those without money or childcare or the ability to take time off from work—will not be so fortunate. Maybe they will try an unsafe method of abortion, and come to physical harm, or even die. Maybe they will undergo pregnancy and have a child, but at significant personal or familial cost. At the least, they will incur the cost of losing control of their lives.”
  • “Today’s decision, taken on its own, is catastrophic enough. As a matter of constitutional method, the majority’s commitment to replicate in 2022 every view about the meaning of liberty held in 1868 has precious little to recommend it. Our law in this constitutional sphere, as in most, has for decades upon decades proceeded differently.”

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FACT:

Mother Jones was founded as a nonprofit in 1976 because we knew corporations and billionaires wouldn't fund the type of hard-hitting journalism we set out to do.

Today, reader support makes up about two-thirds of our budget, allows us to dig deep on stories that matter, and lets us keep our reporting free for everyone. If you value what you get from Mother Jones, please join us with a tax-deductible donation today so we can keep on doing the type of journalism 2022 demands.

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