Alito’s Leaked Abortion Opinion Misunderstands Unenumerated Rights

“Noting that “the Constitution makes no reference to abortion,” Alito argues that “no such right is implicitly protected by any constitutional provision, including the one on which the defenders of Roe and Casey now chiefly rely—the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.” Although “that provision has been held to guarantee some rights that are not mentioned in the Constitution,” he says, “any such right must be ‘deeply rooted in this Nation’s history and tradition’ and ‘implicit in the concept of ordered liberty.'” Alito concludes that “the right to an abortion does not fall within this category.”

That analysis falls short in at least two crucial ways.

First, Alito fails to grapple with the argument that the right to terminate a pregnancy can be understood as a subset of the right to bodily integrity. As the legal scholar Sheldon Gelman detailed in a 1994 Minnesota Law Review article, the right to bodily integrity can be traced back to the Magna Carta. That makes it one of the many rights “retained by the people” (in the words of the Ninth Amendment) that were imported into the Constitution from English law. That right, in other words, is “deeply rooted” in American history and tradition.

Second, Alito’s draft opinion distorts the relevant legal history and thus misstates the historical pedigree of abortion rights. “When the United States was founded and for many subsequent decades, Americans relied on the English common law,” explains an amicus brief that the American Historical Association and the Organization of American Historians filed in Dobbs. “The common law did not regulate abortion in early pregnancy. Indeed, the common law did not even recognize abortion as occurring at that stage. That is because the common law did not legally acknowledge a fetus as existing separately from a pregnant woman until the woman felt fetal movement, called ‘quickening,’ which could occur as late as the 25th week of pregnancy.”

A survey of founding-era legal authorities confirms this view. William Blackstone’s widely read Commentaries on the Laws of England, first published in 1765, noted that life “begins in contemplation of law as soon as an infant is able to stir in the mother’s womb.” Under the common law, Blackstone explained, legal penalties for abortion applied only “if a woman is quick with child, and by a potion, or otherwise, killeth it in her womb.” That means abortion was legal in the early stages of pregnancy under the common law.

Blackstone’s writings had an important influence on America’s founding generation. In his 1790 Of the Natural Rights of Individuals, for example, James Wilson, a driving force at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia and a leading voice for ratification at Pennsylvania’s convention, repeated Blackstone’s gloss. “In the contemplation of law,” Wilson wrote, “life begins when the infant is first able to stir in the womb.”

At the time of the founding, no American state had the lawful power to prohibit abortion before quickening because the states adhered to the common law as described by Blackstone and Wilson. We might call this the original understanding of the states’ regulatory powers. That original understanding contradicts Alito’s assertion that abortion rights—at least during the early stages of pregnancy—lack deep roots in American history.”

In Defense of Roe

“Roe held that the state could “could regulate (but not outlaw) abortions in the interests of the mother’s health” in the second trimester of pregnancy and ban abortions only in the third trimester of pregnancy as a fetus developed more “potentiality of human life.” Its successor case, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, affirmed a right to an abortion until a fetus became viable outside the womb.

Unlike slavery and civil rights, abortion is not an issue that lends itself to absolute moral clarity. There are obviously two sets of rights involved, but exactly when legal personhood for the fetus begins has always been contested, as seen in historic laws that banned abortion only after “quickening.”

The cultural genius of Roe is that it created broad parameters that reflect how we think about pregnancy and abortion: At some point during gestation, the fetus becomes a person with a right to life and liberty, but drawing that line will always be a compromise and imprecise. Honest brokers on both sides of the abortion debate will acknowledge that the opposing side has a case.

Survey data show that Roe was remarkably effective at balancing the rights of the fetus and the mother in a way that fits with our societal values. Sixty percent of Americans support abortion in the first three months of pregnancy and only 13 percent in the final three months. Even more telling is data showing that 93 percent of abortions are performed before the 13th week of pregnancy, and just 1 percent are done after 21 weeks.”

“individual freedom trumps federalism. Though abortion will never be a clear-cut issue, once we have broad societal agreement on how to delineate between the interests of the mother and the interests of the fetus, women across the country deserve basic protections for their bodily autonomy and privacy.

Keeping abortion legal for at least part of pregnancy doesn’t mean that pro-lifers won’t be able to reduce its incidence. The abortion rate has declined for decades despite the procedure’s availability. So has the unwanted pregnancy rate. These are outcomes worth celebrating, as they reflect women being in more control of their own bodies.

Overthrowing Roe and Casey would threaten that progress and broad consensus by stoking a new culture war in which states rush to ideological extremes that run roughshod over the rights of women or fetuses, depending on the state, some of which are already trying to restrict access to their residents’ ability to receive or even fund abortions performed elsewhere.

Post-Roe America would be one with fewer rights and, likely, more political division. There’s no perfect policy on abortion, but in 1973, the court struck a compromise that most Americans continue to endorse. That victory, I fear, is about to be undone.”

What Happens if States Ban Out-of-State Travel for Abortion?

“If the U.S. Supreme Court reverses Roe v. Wade (1973) and Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992), a number of American states will immediately criminalize abortion. Some of those states may also attempt to ban women from traveling out of state for the purpose of obtaining a lawful abortion elsewhere. But any such anti-abortion interstate travel ban would be constitutionally defective for multiple reasons.
First, the Constitution protects the right to travel, which necessarily includes the right to interstate travel. This is a fundamental constitutional right that has been repeatedly recognized by the courts. During the debates over the ratification of the 14th Amendment, the right to travel was invoked as one of the privileges or immunities of citizenship that the amendment was designed to protect from state infringement. For a state to prohibit (or even penalize) the act of leaving that state and doing something perfectly lawful in another state would violate this constitutional safeguard.

Second, an anti-abortion interstate travel ban would run afoul of the Dormant Commerce Clause, a legal doctrine which holds that the Commerce Clause, in addition to authorizing congressional regulation of economic activity that occurs between the states, also forbids the states from enacting their own interstate economic barriers.”

“Finally, there is relevant case law which cuts against the lawfulness of any anti-abortion interstate travel ban. In Planned Parenthood of Kansas v. Nixon (2007), the Missouri Supreme Court reviewed a state law which created a civil cause of action against any person who helped a minor obtain an abortion without parental consent either inside the state or in another state. “Of course, it is beyond Missouri’s authority to regulate conduct that occurs wholly outside of Missouri,” the Missouri Supreme Court observed, and the law at issue “cannot constitutionally be read to apply to such wholly out-of-state conduct. Missouri simply does not have the authority to make lawful out-of-state conduct actionable here, for its laws do not have extraterritorial effect.””

If Roe v. Wade falls, are LGBTQ rights next?

“Justice Samuel Alito’s draft opinion overruling Roe v. Wade, which was leaked to Politico and revealed to the public Monday night, is more than just an attack on abortion. It is a manifesto laying out a comprehensive theory of which rights are protected by the Constitution and which rights should not be enforced by the courts.

And Alito’s opinion is also a warning that, after Roe falls, the Court’s Republican majority may come for landmark LGBTQ rights decisions next, such as the marriage equality decision in Obergefell v. Hodges (2015) or the sexual autonomy decision in Lawrence v. Texas (2003).

To be clear, the leaked opinion is a draft. While Politico reports that five justices initially voted to overrule Roe, no justice’s vote is final until the Court officially hands down its decision. And even if Alito holds onto the five votes he needs to overrule Roe, one or more of his colleagues in the majority could insist that he make changes to the opinion.

Alito’s first draft, however, suggests that the archconservative justice feels emboldened. Not only does he take a maximalist approach to tearing down Roe, but much of Alito’s reasoning in the draft opinion tracks arguments he’s made in the past in dissenting opinions disparaging LGBTQ rights.

The Constitution is a frustrating document. Among other things, it contains multiple provisions stating that Americans enjoy certain civil rights that are not mentioned anywhere in the document itself. The Ninth Amendment, for example, provides that “the enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.”

Over time, the Supreme Court has devised multiple different standards to determine which of those unenumerated rights are nonetheless protected by our founding document. Some of these standards are very much at odds with each other.

The central thrust of Alito’s draft opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the case seeking to overrule Roe, is that only rights that are “deeply rooted in this Nation’s history and tradition” and “implicit in the concept of ordered liberty,” are protected. This method of weighing unenumerated rights is often referred to as the “Glucksberg” test, after the Court’s decision in Washington v. Glucksberg (1997).

Though Alito’s Dobbs opinion largely focuses on why he believes that the right to abortion fails the Glucksberg test, there is no doubt that he also believes that other important rights, such as same-sex couples’ right to marry, also fail Glucksberg and are thus unprotected by the Constitution. Alito said as much in his Obergefell dissent, which said that “it is beyond dispute that the right to same-sex marriage is not among those rights” that are sufficiently rooted in American history and tradition.”

“For many years, Justice Anthony Kennedy was the pivotal figure in the legal struggle for gay equality. Obergefell and United States v. Windsor (2013), which held that the federal government must recognize same-sex marriages, were both 5-4 decisions authored by Kennedy. Kennedy also penned the Lawrence opinion and the Court’s decision in Romer v. Evans (1996), the first Supreme Court decision establishing that the Constitution places limits on the government’s ability to target gay or bisexual individuals.

Given his longtime role as the Court’s voice on gay rights, it’s tempting to think of Kennedy as a staunch supporter of these rights (I use the word “gay” and not “LGBTQ” because Kennedy’s four opinions concerned discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and not gender identity). But the reality is almost certainly more nuanced. Decisions like Obergefell and Windsor were the products of an uneasy alliance between the conservative Kennedy and his four liberal colleagues. And, in closely divided cases, majority opinions are often assigned to the justice who is most on the fence — on the theory that this justice is unlikely to flip their vote if they can tailor the majority opinion to their own idiosyncratic views.

The result is that Kennedy’s great gay rights decisions were poorly argued. They ignore longstanding doctrines that could have provided a firm foundation for a rule barring discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Instead, they often substitute needlessly purple prose for the meat-and-potatoes work of legal argumentation.”

How we got here: Roe v. Wade from 1973 to today

“The anti-abortion movement has also focused on building a pipeline of judicial nominees through organizations like the Federalist Society. The left, meanwhile, has focused on shifting party opinion on related issues like contraception coverage and the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits government funds from being used to pay for abortion except in the case of rape, incest, or endangering the mother’s life, while treating Roe as a largely settled matter.

Now, all those years of work by anti-abortion activists seem to be paying off. If the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, as it appears set to do based on the draft opinion that leaked..,it will toss out nearly 50 years of jurisprudence along with it.”

The End of Roe? Everything You Need To Know About the Leaked Supreme Court Draft Opinion

“It’s incredibly rare for a draft opinion to be leaked like this and this leak has been roundly condemned.”

“If the opinion is issued as-is or somewhere near it, constitutional protection of abortion access will be null and the decision of whether or not to permit abortion will return to the states.
Thirteen states have enacted laws saying that abortion is immediately illegal should Roe be overturned (Arkansas, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and Wyoming). Others retain (currently unenforced) pre-Roe bans that will be triggered again.

Overall, some 23 states “have laws that could be used to restrict the legal status of abortion,” according to the Guttmacher Institute. This includes nine states with “unconstitutional post-Roe restrictions that are currently blocked by courts but could be brought back into effect with a court order in Roe’s absence.”

Meanwhile, other states have passed laws guaranteeing abortion access in Roe’s absence, and others are poised to do so. According to the Guttmacher Institute, “16 states and the District of Columbia have laws that protect the right to abortion.””

How the Anti-Abortion Movement Used the Progressive Playbook to Chip Away at Roe v. Wade

“The attack on Roe has been decades in the making—and its successes owe not just to the strength of the conservative anti-abortion movement, but to the progressive playbook that achieved breakthroughs on civil rights, gay marriage and even abortion.

Much like the civil-rights activists of the past, abortion foes have pursued a long-term strategy that stretches far outside the courts. It depends on grassroots political change as well as legal challenges, and on the tidal push-and-pull between politics and the law at the highest levels.”

“Efforts by anti-abortion activists at the state and local level also reflect the use of a strategy that has already proved successful for gay rights advocates—one that focused on changing local laws, one step at a time, to make the values written into an earlier case appear to be out of step with contemporary constitutional law as well as public sentiment.”

“The current focus on “viability”—the question at the heart of the Dobbs case—is a new step in this politics of repudiation. In Roe v. Wade, the Court has held that there is a right to abortion until fetal viability, which now falls around the 24th week of pregnancy. Advances in neonatal care might move up the date of viability somewhat, but until now the point has held: Any future limits on abortion right would have to observe that line in the sand. The Court has preserved this “viability” line even as it repeatedly tinkered with abortion rights in response to politics.
To chip away at the “viability” norm, states have rushed to ban abortions much earlier in pregnancy—the Mississippi law now before the Supreme Court prohibits the procedure a full eight to nine weeks before viability. Georgia recognizes fetal personhood at six weeks. Alabama has sought to ban abortions outright, regardless of gestational time. Anti-abortion activists then point to all these moves as evidence that the viability norm encoded in Roe, just like the sexual-behavior norm encoded in Bowers, has now become an outlier—a relic of a time when American beliefs around abortion were far more permissive.”

“By flooding the field of action with abortion restrictions based on different standards over the years, abortion opponents have forced courts to wrestle with difficult and often murky medical questions, and given judges with more favorable ideological leanings maximal opportunities to revisit legal rules and frameworks. One successful wave of post-Roe anti-abortion activism assailed the logic of the trimester framework, a critical part of the original Roe decision that deemed most restrictions in the first trimester of pregnancy unconstitutional. In the most important Supreme Court abortion case between Roe and Dobbs—Planned Parenthood v. Casey, in 1992—the Court threw out the trimester framework but preserved the viability line as an essential component of the right to choose.”

“In Dobbs, the renewed attack on viability sets the stage for an end game. Viability has long been in the crosshairs because abortion foes see it as a potential weakness in the Roe precedent—philosophers and bioethicists have sometimes questioned its logic. The Supreme Court could have dodged the fate of viability in Dobbs, but instead they decided to tackle it head-on: In fact, they narrowly chose to consider only the question of whether pre-viability bans are unconstitutional. That means that if the Court wants to uphold Mississippi’s law, the justices must get rid of at least part of Roe. Even if the justices in Dobbs do not openly repudiate a woman’s right to choose, Roe could be fatally weakened.”

Will at-home abortions make Roe v. Wade obsolete?

“Biden’s pledge to “follow the science” when it comes to public health is under scrutiny as medical experts argue — citing new data gained during the pandemic — that administering the abortion drugs remotely is safe and effective.

Should the federal rules get rewritten, someone in, say, Arkansas, could have a video consultation with a doctor in Massachusetts or even the UK and then receive the pills by mail. Even if red states moved to ban their importation, enforcement would be nearly impossible.

“It takes the fight out of the clinic setting into individual people’s homes,” explained Alina Salganicoff, the Director of Women’s Health Policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation. “That becomes much more difficult to regulate and could potentially broaden access.”

Women’s health and advocacy groups stress, however, that the pills are not a panacea. For one, they can only be used safely in the first 10 weeks of pregnancy — a narrow time window during which many people are not yet aware that they are pregnant. Additionally, taking the pills in a state that has banned them could be legally perilous, discouraging people from seeking medical help if they have a complication.”

“Medication abortion relies on two pills — misoprostol, which is lightly regulated, and mifepristone, which has been more tightly regulated by FDA since its introduction in the market decades ago.

Yet mifepristone “has very few risks at all,” argues Villavicencio. “It is more safe than over-the-counter medications like ibuprofen and Tylenol. We know this medication can be safely administered via telemedicine because we’ve studied it.”

ACOG, along with the American Medical Association and other leading medical groups, has been lobbying the Biden administration and arguing in court that the federal rules for dispensing the pills should be loosened. Their push has been echoed on Capitol Hill, where Democratic lawmakers have urged Biden to allow telemedicine abortions both during the pandemic and beyond.

But the decision still presents a political quandary for Biden, who until recently was relatively conservative on abortion for a Democratic politician.”