Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization

Justia Summary

Mississippi’s Gestational Age Act provides that “[e]xcept in a medical emergency or in the case of a severe fetal abnormality, a person shall not intentionally or knowingly perform . . . or induce an abortion of an unborn human being if the probable gestational age of the unborn human being has been determined to be greater than fifteen (15) weeks.” The Fifth Circuit affirmed an injunction, prohibiting enforcement of the Act.

The Supreme Court reversed, overruling its own precedent. The Constitution does not confer a right to abortion; the authority to regulate abortion belongs to state representatives. Citing the “faulty historical analysis” in Roe v. Wade, the justices concluded that the right to abortion is not deeply rooted in the nation’s history and tradition; regulations and prohibitions of abortion are governed by the same “rational basis” standard of review as other health and safety measures. The justices analyzed “great common-law authorities,” concerning the historical understanding of ordered liberty. “Attempts to justify abortion through appeals to a broader right to autonomy and to define one’s ‘concept of existence’ … could license fundamental rights to illicit drug use, prostitution, and the like.”

Noting “the critical moral question posed by abortion,” the justices compared their decision to Brown v. Board of Education in overruling Plessy v. Ferguson, which “was also egregiously wrong.” Roe conflated the right to shield information from disclosure and the right to make and implement important personal decisions without governmental interference and produced a scheme that “looked like legislation,” including a “glaring deficiency” in failing to justify the distinction it drew between pre- and post-viability abortions. The subsequently-described “undue burden” test is unworkable in defining a line between permissible and unconstitutional restrictions. Traditional reliance interests are not implicated because getting an abortion is generally an “unplanned activity,” and “reproductive planning could take virtually immediate account of any sudden restoration of state authority to ban abortions.” The Court emphasized that nothing in this opinion should be understood to cast doubt on precedents that do not concern abortion.

Mississippi’s Gestational Age Act is supported by the Mississippi Legislature’s specific findings, which include the State’s asserted interest in “protecting the life of the unborn.”