The Supreme Court decision Friday ending the constitutional right to abortion is a blow to women, privacy and reproductive choice that will further polarize America. While the ruling has no immediate effect on the legality of abortion in Florida, it opens a floodgate for litigation and stands to encourage activist judges and far-right lawmakers to eliminate a long-established right for Floridians. As wrenching as it is that the court reversed nearly a half-century of settled law, its decision should surprise no one, and it should again remind Americans — a majority of whom favor abortion rights — how much elections matter.
In the 5-4 ruling, issued Friday, the majority held flatly that the U.S. Constitution “does not confer a right to abortion.” The court dismissed the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision and a later ruling in Planned Parenthood v. Casey that reaffirmed Roe, holding that these earlier rulings found “potential homes for an implicit constitutional right” that did not exist. “The Constitution does not prohibit the citizens of each state from regulating or prohibiting abortion,” Justice Samuel Alito wrote for the majority. “We now overrule (Roe and Casey) and return that authority to the people and their elected representatives.”
The immediate impact of Friday’s decision is looming abortion bans in nearly half the states. Thirteen states, mostly in the South and Midwest, have laws on the books that ban abortion now that Roe is overturned. Another six states have near-total bans after six weeks of pregnancy — before many women know they are pregnant — and six more are poised to take up new bans or revive previous ones that Roe had set aside.
Floridians are better protected than many because the state constitution includes an express privacy guarantee: “Every natural person has the right to be let alone and free from governmental intrusion into the person’s private life.” That creates a higher hurdle for challenging abortion on privacy grounds; indeed, in a 1989 case, the state’s Supreme Court ruled that the privacy clause covered the right to an abortion.
Florida’s new ban on most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy is already being challenged in state court. But the Republican-led Legislature could consider further restrictions, or even an outright ban, taking their chances on Florida’s judicial system, which has been packed with Republican judicial appointees over the past 20 years. Florida’s high court could always reverse its precedent as the U.S. Supreme Court did. Three of the seven current justices were appointed by Gov. Ron DeSantis. All seven were appointed by Republican governors. On Friday, DeSantis praised the ruling, and in a tweet, said that Florida would “continue to defend its recently-enacted pro-life reforms” and “will work to expand pro-life protections.”
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As a presidential candidate in 2016, Donald Trump made no bones about his intent to appoint justices who’d overturn Roe. He delivered on that promise, with the help of Republicans laser-focused on cementing the court’s conservative majority. All three of Trump’s appointees were in the majority in Friday’s 5-4 decision. Now the fight over abortion — and, troublingly, other privacy issues — is being kicked to the states. Justice Clarence Thomas raised the prospect of a broadening social war in his concurring opinion Friday reversing Roe. “We should reconsider all of this Court’s substantive due process precedents,” Thomas wrote, raising fears the high court could use the same justification to overturn rights to contraception and same-sex relations.
Voters don’t have a choice over Supreme Court nominees. But they do have a vote for governor, senator and president. And Friday’s opinion underscores how important state legislative races have become. This ruling is a travesty that will bring untold danger and hardship. It also identifies where the battlegrounds lie for preserving rights in America.
Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, Sherri Day, Sebastian Dortch, John Hill, Jim Verhulst and Chairman Paul Tash. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.