US Supreme Court strikes down right to abortion

Abortion rights activists protest after the US Supreme Court struck down Roe Vs. Wade, overturning the right to abortion, in Portland, Oregon, on June 24, 2022. Photo by John Rudoff / AFP

Washington, United States - - The US Supreme Court on Friday struck down the right to abortion in a seismic ruling that shredded five decades of constitutional protections and prompted several right-leaning states to impose immediate bans.

Protests broke out almost immediately in Washington and elsewhere, with dozens of demonstrations underway or planned across the country Friday evening.

The conservative-dominated court overturned the landmark 1973 "Roe v. Wade" decision enshrining a woman's right to an abortion, saying individual states can restrict or ban the procedure themselves.

"The Constitution does not confer a right to abortion," the court said in a 6-3 ruling on one of America's most bitterly divisive issues. "The authority to regulate abortion is returned to the people and their elected representatives."

A somber President Joe Biden called the ruling a "tragic error" stemming from "extreme ideology" and said it was a "sad day for the court and the country."

"The health and life of women in this nation are now at risk," Biden said, warning that other rights could be threatened next, such as same-sex marriage and contraception.

The Democratic president urged Congress to restore abortion protections as federal law and said Roe will be "on the ballot" in November's midterm elections.

- 'You have failed us' -

Hundreds of people -- some weeping for joy and others with grief -- gathered outside the fenced-off Supreme Court as the ruling came down.

"It's hard to imagine living in a country that does not respect women as human beings and their right to control their bodies," said Jennifer Lockwood-Shabat, 49, a mother of two daughters who was choking back tears.

"You have failed us," read a sign held up by one protester. "Shame," said another.

But Gwen Charles, a 21-year-old opponent of abortion, was jubilant.

"This is the day that we have been waiting for," Charles told AFP. "We get to usher in a new culture of life in the United States."

Just hours after the ruling, Missouri banned abortion -- making no exception for rape or incest -- and so did South Dakota, except where the life of the mother is at risk.

"This is a monumental day for the sanctity of life," Missouri attorney general Eric Schmitt said.

Protesters took to the streets in St. Louis to decry the ban, gathering at what had been Missouri's last abortion clinic.

"It's absolutely disturbing," said Lilian Dodenhoff, 32, standing outside the facility.

"It doesn't feel good. You're just... you know that you have to call on your friends. So I just immediately reached out to people that I knew shouldn't be alone right now."

As of Friday evening, at least seven states had already banned abortion -- Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Oklahoma, and South Dakota.

Many more are expected to follow suit or severely restrict the procedure.

Protesters also marched in New York and Boston as anger over the Supreme Court decision grew.

"Abortion is a human right, not just for the rich and white," protesters in New York chanted on Friday.

Democratic Governor Kathy Hochul met the crowd at Union Square, telling reporters that New York would be a "safe harbor" for those unable to receive abortions in their own states.

"This is the most reactionary, most reactionary Supreme Court, probably in the history of our nation," she said, adding that abortion rights were "secure" in New York.

"We took action already, we allocated $35 million to support our abortion providers to be able to help our sisters across this nation find their way here. This is their safe harbor."

Criticism of the move also came from abroad, including from US allies including Britain, whose Prime Minister Boris Johnson called it "a big step backwards."

Canada's leader Justin Trudeau said it was "horrific" and French President Emmanuel Macron voiced his "solidarity with women whose freedoms are today challenged."

Acknowledging the international concerns, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken insisted his department would "remain fully committed to helping provide access to reproductive health services and advancing reproductive rights around the world."

- 'Egregiously wrong' -

In the majority opinion, Justice Samuel Alito said Roe v. Wade was "egregiously wrong."

"Abortion presents a profound moral issue on which Americans hold sharply conflicting views," he said. "The Constitution does not prohibit the citizens of each State from regulating or prohibiting abortion."

The court tossed out the legal argument in Roe v. Wade that women had the right to abortion based on the constitutional right to privacy with regard to their own bodies.

While the ruling represents a victory in the struggle against abortion by the religious right, leaders of the Christian conservative movement said it does not go far enough and they will push for a nationwide ban.

"While it's a major step in the right direction, overturning Roe does not end abortion," said the group March for Life.

"God made the decision," said former Republican president Donald Trump while praising the ruling.

The decision was made possible by Trump's nomination to the court of three conservative justices -- Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett.

- 'Will not stop there' -

The three liberal justices on the court dissented from the ruling, which came a day after the court ushered in a major expansion of US gun rights.

"One result of today's decision is certain: the curtailment of women's rights, and of their status as free and equal citizens," they said.

Abortion providers could now face criminal penalties and "some States will not stop there," they warned.

"Perhaps, in the wake of today's decision, a state law will criminalize the woman's conduct too, incarcerating or fining her for daring to seek or obtain an abortion," they said.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, 13 states have adopted so-called "trigger laws" that will ban abortion virtually immediately.

Ten others have pre-1973 laws that could go into force or legislation that would ban abortion after six weeks, before many women know they are pregnant.

Women in states with strict anti-abortion laws will either have to continue with their pregnancy, undergo a clandestine abortion, obtain abortion pills, or travel to another state where it remains legal.

Several Democratic-led states, anticipating an influx, have taken steps to facilitate abortion and three of them -- California, Oregon and Washington -- issued a joint pledge to defend access in the wake of the court's decision.

© Agence France-Presse

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