Since a draft Supreme Court opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health leaked to Politico in early May, the conservative-majority court was widely expected to overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade, who established a constitutional right. to abortion.

The notice fell on Friday. It was written by Samuel Alito, a committed conservative who had been appointed by George W. Bush. He was joined by five other conservatives, three of whom had been appointed by President Trump.

Below are key passages from Alito’s opinion.

1. The right to abortion is not inherent in US law

An anti-abortion protester walks past abortion rights supporters outside the Supreme Court. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

The Constitution makes no reference to abortion, and no such right is implicitly protected by any constitutional provision, including the one on which Roe and Casey’s defenders now primarily rely – the Due Process Clause of the 14th amendment. This provision has been seen as guaranteeing certain rights which are not mentioned in the Constitution, but any such right must be “deeply rooted in the history and tradition of this nation” and “implicit in the concept of ordered liberty”. .

The right to abortion does not fall into this category. Until the end of the 20th century, such a right was totally unknown to American law.

Here, the judges present their main case: Abortion is not a core American right protected by the 14th Amendment, whose due process clause states that states cannot arbitrarily take away rights from citizens. Some rights are not enumerated, which means they are not in the Constitution but nevertheless based on its principles.

Abortion no longer has that protection because, according to conservative Supreme Court officials, it failed to meet the standard set in a famous 1997 decision on assisted suicide known as Glucksberg, which ruled that unlisted rights must have a historical basis.

Many states had already virtually banned abortion, in part because of another key abortion case: Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, whom the Supreme Court heard in 1992. In its ruling, the court narrowly upheld Roe but affirmed its “reasoned judgment.” in determining the boundaries between the freedom of the individual and the demands of organized society.

Abortion remained legal, but Casey allowed further restrictions, as long as those restrictions did not prove an “undue burden”.

Friday’s decision knocked Casey down with Roe. States are now entirely free to decide whether or not to legalize abortion – without having to worry about the 14th Amendment.

2. Other rights are not threatened

Abortion rights and anti-abortion protesters outside the United States Supreme Court in Washington, DC, U.S., on Thursday, June 23, 2022. (Valerie Plesch/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Abortion rights and anti-abortion protesters outside the United States Supreme Court in Washington, DC, U.S., on Thursday, June 23, 2022. (Valerie Plesch/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Exercising the rights at issue in Griswold, Eisenstadt, Lawrence and Obergefell does not destroy a “potential life”, but an abortion does. So if the rights at issue in these cases are fundamentally the same as the right recognized in Roe and Casey, the implication is clear: the Constitution does not permit states to consider the destruction of “potential life” as a matter of importance. .

Democrats and judicial progressives are worried that Dobbs was just the start of a conservative-led effort to roll back other unlisted rights related to privacy and autonomy. In this passage, Alito assures that it will not because, as he puts it, ending a “potential life” simply requires a higher bar than other rights.

So even if these other rights are similar to the right to abortion, Alito says, they should not be seen as subject to similar threats.

The four cases cited in the opinion are the basis of liberal jurisprudence. Decided in 1965, the Griswold decision came out in favor of married couples seeking contraception; it is also a key feature of how the American legal system has come to understand the notion of privacy, which is not described in the Constitution. Eisenstadt extended the right to contraception to unmarried people. Lawrence v. Texas prevented states from imposing so-called sodomy laws against same-sex couples, while Obergefell legalized same-sex marriage.

Despite Alito’s reassurances about those rulings, many Democrats fear what happens next, given how conservative the Supreme Court is likely to remain for years to come.

They were particularly troubled by a concurring opinion from staunchly conservative Clarence Thomas in which he argues the court should re-examine the same cases that Alito assured were not threatened by the Dobbs ruling.

“We have a duty to ‘correct the error’ established in these precedents,” Thomas wrote, appearing to suggest that other unlisted rights are indeed at risk.

3. The previous one is not perfect

Abortion rights protesters

Abortion rights supporters demonstrate outside the Supreme Court in response to the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. (Brandon Bell/Getty Images)

… When one of our constitutional decisions goes astray, the country is usually stuck with the wrong decision unless we correct our own mistake. A flawed constitutional decision can be corrected by amending the Constitution, but our Constitution is notoriously difficult to amend. Therefore, in appropriate circumstances, we must be willing to reconsider and, if necessary, reverse constitutional decisions.

Expressing respect for precedent has become something of a ritual for Supreme Court nominees, an assurance that there is no need to worry about the kind of judicial activism both sides decry.

“Judges are like referees,” Chief Justice John Roberts said during his confirmation hearing in 2005. “Referees don’t make the rules; they apply them. The role of an arbitrator and a judge is essential. They make sure everyone follows the rules. But it is a limited role.

But in overthrowing Roe v. Wade, conservatives have argued that sometimes precedent (watch the decisiona Latin term for leaving a ruler standing) is an imperfect guide to the present.