U.S. Supreme Court overturns abortion right
June 25, 2022

In News:

  • The US Supreme Court took the dramatic step of overturning the landmark 1973 Roe vs Wade ruling.
  • The 1973 Roe vs Wade ruling has been the basis for legal abortions across America for nearly half a century.

What’s in Today’s Article:

  • Major SC judgement of US concerning abortion - Roe v. Wade Ruling (1973), Planned Parenthood v. Casey case, 1992, significance of these judgements
  • News Summary – key highlights of judgement, criticism, Abortion laws in India


  • In 2018, the Republican-majority legislature of the state of Mississippi banned most abortions after 15 weeks.
    • It was much before foetal viability, and sooner than was allowed by Roe case.
  • This law was challenged in lower court, which in turn struck it down, ruling that it “unequivocally” violated the constitutional rights of women.
  • Finally, the 2018 law reached the Supreme Court. The judgement of which was pronounced recently.

In Focus: Major SC judgement of US concerning abortion

Roe v. Wade Ruling (1973)

  • The case is sometimes referred to simply as “Roe”, the listed name of the 22-year-old plaintiff.
    • Wade was the defendant Henry Wade, the Dallas County (Texas) district attorney at the time.
  • The ruling struck down laws that made abortion illegal in several states, and ruled that abortion would be allowed up to the point of foetal viability.
    • Foetal viability is the time after which a foetus can survive outside the womb.
      • Foetal viability is often seen as the point at which the rights of the woman can be separated from the rights of the unborn foetus.
    • Foetal viability was around 28 weeks (7 months) at the time of the ‘Roe’ judgment.
    • However, experts now agree that advances in medicine have brought the threshold down to 23 or 24 weeks (6 months or a little less).
      • Newer studies show this could be further pegged at 22 weeks.
  • In this case, the Court ruled that the Constitution of the U.S. protects a pregnant woman's liberty to choose to have an abortion without excessive government restriction.

Planned Parenthood v. Casey case, 1992

  • In this case, the Supreme Court revisited and modified its rulings in Roe v. Wade judgement.
  • The Court reaffirmed that a woman's right to choose to have an abortion is constitutionally protected.
  • However, it rejected Roe's trimester framework in favour of a foetal viability (the time after which a foetus can survive outside the womb) threshold.
  • It also overruled the strict scrutiny criteria for considering abortion restrictions.

Significance of these judgements

  • Strengthened the concept of personal liberty
    • These judgements recognised the concept of personal liberty as enshrined in the Fourteenth Amendment against government interference with intensely personal decisions.
  • Social and ideological clash over the issue of abortion
    • It also resulted in a social and ideological struggle (between Democrats [pro-abortion] and Republicans [conservative, anti-abortion]).
    • This has further polarised the country's already divided society and politics.

News Summary

  • The United States Supreme Court has overturned by a 6-3 majority ‘Roe v. Wade’, the court’s landmark 1973 judgment that made abortion a constitutional right.

Key Highlights:

  • Upheld a Republican-backed Mississippi law
    • The court upheld a Republican-backed Mississippi law that bans abortion after 15 weeks.
      • The Mississippi law allows abortions only when there is a medical emergency or a severe foetal abnormality.
      • It does not have an exception for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest.
    • Abortion rights — which have been available to women for over two generations — will now be determined by individual States.
  • Constitution makes no reference to abortion
    • The top US court held that the Constitution makes no reference to abortion, and no such right is implicitly protected by any constitutional provision.
    • The Conservative justices held that the Roe decision was wrongly decided because the US constitution makes no specific mention of abortion rights.
      • The Roe decision allowed abortions performed before a foetus would be viable outside the womb — between 24 and 28 weeks of pregnancy.
  • Ruling overturned the Casey decision as well
    • The current ruling overturned the Casey decision as well.
    • The SC in a 1992 ruling called Planned Parenthood of South-eastern Pennsylvania vs Casey reaffirmed abortion rights
    • It had prohibited laws imposing an undue burden on abortion access.

Criticism faced by Court

  • Infringes upon the rights of women
    • Many women say this ruling infringes on their rights over their own bodies.
    • As per the experts, decision will turn women into second class citizens.
    • They estimated that 36 million women who live in about 30 states that will be affected by the ruling.
  • Verdict came along ideological lines
    • The verdict came along ideological lines, with the court’s six conservative justices, including five men, voting in favour of the Mississippi abortion law.
    • The three liberal justices (including two women) dissented.

Where does US stand after this verdict?

  • By erasing abortion as a constitutional right, the ruling restored the ability of states to ban it. Now states are free to enact their own laws on this matter.

Abortion rights in major countries of the world

Abortion laws in India

  • Abortions in India is controlled by the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) act 1971.
    • Initially, the MTP act said that abortion can be permitted up to 20 weeks of pregnancy.
    • Through an amendment in 2021, the ceiling for abortions was raised to 24 weeks.
      • However, this was done only for special categories of pregnant women such as rape or incest survivors, that too, with the approval of two registered doctors.
    • In case of foetal disability, there is no limit to the timeline for abortion.
      • However, this is allowed by a medical board of specialist doctors set up by the governments of states and union territories.
    • In 1994, the PCPNDT (Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques) Act was enacted to prevent misuse of the MTP Act.