Op-Ed: The fight for Roe isn’t over—It’s just getting started

By Kaitlin Ahern

The year is 1973, and a decision has finally been reached in Roe v. Wade. Protesters line the streets leading to the Supreme Court building. One woman holds a sign that reads, “The right to abort belongs to God, not a doctor.” Another raises a poster high above her head, with “My body, my choice” painted in bold letters. Today, little has changed. Abortion remains one of the most polarizing issues in domestic politics, and the fate of reproductive rights once again hangs in the balance of the Supreme Court. It was through Roe that the Supreme Court federally codified protections for abortions. Since its ruling, a woman’s right to get an abortion has conditionally been protected under The 14th Amendment. Almost fifty years later, the Supreme Court is poised to overturn this ruling.

Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization is a case that challenges a Mississippi law that bans abortions after 15 weeks of gestation. If the court sides with the abortion ban, it would overturn Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey. This would relegate abortion rights from the federal government, back to individual states. It would also change the legal understanding of fetal viability from the medically accepted 24 weeks to 15 weeks. According to NPR, if Dobbs is affirmed, 21 states will immediately “ban or severely restrict” abortion. The bulk of these states are in the south, the midwest, and the plains. Some of these states include Michigan, Texas, South Carolina, Alabama and Arizona. In Pennsylvania, reproductive rights are safe until at least the next gubernatorial race. Our Governor, Tom Wolf, is ardently pro-choice and would not sign an abortion restriction into law. With our Republican-held state legislature, it becomes a possibility in 2022 if the party retains control over both chambers and secures the Governorship. 

While a formal decision is not expected to be reached until early June, many feel that the court’s ideological makeup is proof enough to predict its decision. There are currently three liberal-leaning justices and six conservative-leaning justices on the bench. Justices Thomas, Roberts, Alito, Gorsuch, Barrett and Kavanaugh have all voted in the past to restrict abortion access. Several of these justices, however, have asserted that they believe in the importance of upholding precedent and would therefore not vote against Roe. Many are looking to Roberts as being the key to protecting Roe and Casey. In a 2019 abortion case, Roberts sided with liberal justices in upholding Roe’s precedent, stating “it is a jolt to the legal system when you overrule a precedent.”

While Roberts may still vote to restrict fetal viability, his voting history indicates that he would be unwilling to fully uphold Dobbs v. Jackson since it would overturn the landmark Roe decision.

I recently spoke with Lia Charles, the founder and President of Lafayette for Reproductive Autonomy, Justice, and Empowerment (L-RAJE) to discuss her thoughts on the case.

“I think from a legal argument, it’s pretty clear the justices were transparent about how they’ll likely vote,” she said. “I think as of right now it wouldn’t be a wild prediction to say that the court will uphold the Mississippi fifteen-week ban. The only question will be if they’ll completely overturn Roe, or if they’ll just continue to chip away at it.”

Charles strongly encourages everyone to look into the personal stories of those who have had abortions and those who have been impacted by access to reproductive health services.

“Continue reading up on the stories of people who have gone through with this procedure to learn about this very multifaceted and complex issue. It’s about privacy and livelihoods and bodily autonomy,” Charles said.