Alaskans woke up Friday to the news the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision had been overturned in the U.S. Supreme Court, ending nearly 50 years of legally protected access to abortion and clearing the path for states to establish their own laws on the procedure.
Alaska’s Supreme Court has repeatedly found the state’s constitution has protected the right to abortion in the state regardless of the Roe decision, but many Alaskans were deeply upset by the ruling.
Thirty-three-year-old Emily Chapel, stood on the corner of Egan Drive and Main Street in downtown Juneau Friday morning with a handmade sign reading “No forced births,” “I trust women,” and “F—-k SCOTUS,” the acronym for the Supreme Court of the United States.
Chapel said she had chosen her location because of its visibility and closeness to the cruise ship docks.
“Passengers on the cruise ships probably come from states where there are trigger laws,” Chapel said, referring to provisions in state laws that would ban abortion as soon as the Roe decision was reversed.
According to the Associated Press, 13 states have trigger laws.
“I wanted those people who are scared, who are feeling fear about that to know that they are not alone, same goes for the women here in Juneau,” Chapel said.
Standing on the corner with Chapel was Brian Sparks with his own handmade sign encouraging disobedience toward unjust laws. Both Sparks and Chapel cited the lack of support for children once their born among their concerns and said the decision would hurt lower-income people most of all.
“This is a decision that hurts poor people and women and children,” Sparks said.
Surge of statements
The early morning decision released a flood of statements from politicians and organizations, as well as Alaskan candidates for office.
Former state lawmaker and gubernatorial candidate Les Gara has said he’s the only one in his race to fully support access to abortion. Gov. Mike Dunleavy, a Republican, has repeatedly stated his opposition to abortion, and his attorneys general have filed suits to block Medicaid funding of abortion in the state. Former Gov. Bill Walker, who is again seeking the office as an independent, said in a statement that if elected he would oppose any law that would erode abortion rights.
In an interview with the Empire Friday, Gara said Walker — who has said he’s personally against abortion but will protect a woman’s right to choose — had filed similar suits to block abortion funding, something the Alaska Supreme Court has found illegal.
“If I were Gov. Dunleavy or Gov. Walker, I would have fired those AGs,” Gara said. “I will never appoint an AG who doesn’t support a woman’s right to choose.”
In a statement Friday, the Walker campaign released a statement saying as governor Walker and his pick for lieutenant governor Heidi Drygas would support access to abortion in Alaska.
“Bill is personally pro-life, and Heidi is personally pro-choice, but we are aligned in our goal of protecting women and families in Alaska. “We also stand unified in upholding Alaska’s constitution, which has long guaranteed that a woman has the right to make her own reproductive decisions.”
The Alaska Senate’s six-member Democratic minority released a statement condemning the decision.
“Women across this country have lost their fundamental right to make their own medical decisions,” said state Sen. Elvi Gray-Jackson, D-Anchorage. “Instead, a conservative majority of the U.S. Supreme Court decided to interject their personal politics and take over a woman’s right to choose.”
Alaskan voters will be asked this year whether to hold a constitutional convention, which some in the state see as an opportunity to change Alaska’s constitution to prohibit abortion. In a statement Friday afternoon, Dunleavy said he would introduce a resolution in the next legislative session to decide whether abortion will be legal in Alaska.
“I like many Alaskans, am pro-life. I also recognize that many Alaskans are pro-choice. The recent decision by the Supreme Court returns the issue of abortion back to the states,” Dunleavy said.
Congressional candidate and former Gov. Sarah Palin, a Republican who’s been endorsed by former President Donald Trump, released a statement Friday lauding the decision.
“I commend the Supreme Court Justices for their courage in righting a wrong that led to the death of millions of babies in the womb. At long last, this 50-year nationwide trail of death is over,” Palin said.
Alaska’s Republican Senators released statements alternately praising and condemning the decision.
“The rights under Roe that many women have relied on for decades—most notably a woman’s right to choose—are now gone or threatened in many states,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski, in a statement. “In the wake of this ruling, it is up to Congress to respond. I introduced legislation in February to protect women’s reproductive rights as provided in Roe, and I am continuing to work with a broader group to restore women’s freedom to control their own health decisions wherever they live.”
Sen. Dan Sullivan, who has stated his opposition to abortion, said in a statement Friday policies regarding abortion were now up to individual states, where such a decision belongs.
“I recognize that abortion is a profoundly emotional issue upon which many Alaskans have strongly held views and serious disagreements. The decision today does not by any stretch end that debate,” Sullivan said. “However, it does take the debate out of the realm of federal courts, and gives it back to the states and the people of our country, where I believe it belongs. The people and their representatives, not federal judges, are in the best position to deliberate and decide such an important issue.”
Both Murkowski and Sullivan voted to confirm the two Supreme Court nominees put forward by the Trump administration, Justices Neil Gorsuch and Amy Comey-Barrett, but Murkowski voted against the confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
The end of Roe
The Supreme Court on Friday stripped away women’s constitutional protections for abortion, a fundamental and deeply personal change for Americans’ lives after nearly a half-century under Roe v. Wade. The court’s overturning of the landmark court ruling is likely to lead to abortion bans in roughly half the states.
The ruling, unthinkable just a few years ago, was the culmination of decades of efforts by abortion opponents, made possible by an emboldened right side of the court fortified by three appointees of former President Donald Trump.
Both sides predicted the fight over abortion would continue, in state capitals, in Washington and at the ballot box. Justice Clarence Thomas, part of Friday’s majority, urged colleagues to overturn other high court rulings protecting same-sex marriage, gay sex and the use of contraceptives.
Pregnant women considering abortions already had been dealing with a near-complete ban in Oklahoma and a prohibition after roughly six weeks in Texas. Clinics in at least eight other states — Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Kentucky, Missouri, South Dakota, Wisconsin and West Virginia — stopped performing abortions after Friday’s decision.
Abortion foes cheered the ruling, but abortion-rights supporters, including President Joe Biden, expressed dismay and pledged to fight to restore the rights.
“It’s a sad day for the court and for the country,” Biden said at the White House. He urged voters to make it a defining issue in the November elections, declaring, “This decision must not be the final word.”
Outside the White House, Ansley Cole, a college student from Atlanta, said she was “scared because what are they going to come after next? … The next election cycle is going to be brutal, like it’s terrifying. And if they’re going to do this, again, what’s next?”
Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of SBA Pro-Life America, agreed about the political stakes.
“We are ready to go on offense for life in every single one of those legislative bodies, in each statehouse and the White House,” Dannenfelser said in a statement.
Trump praised the ruling, telling Fox News that it “will work out for everybody.”
The decision is expected to disproportionately affect minority women who already face limited access to health care, according to statistics analyzed by The Associated Press.
It also puts the court at odds with a majority of Americans who favored preserving Roe, according to opinion polls.
Surveys conducted by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research and others have shown a majority in favor of abortion being legal in all or most circumstances. But many also support restrictions especially later in pregnancy. Surveys consistently show that about 1 in 10 Americans want abortion to be illegal in all cases.
The ruling came more than a month after the stunning leak of a draft opinion by Justice Samuel Alito indicating the court was prepared to take this momentous step.
Alito, in the final opinion issued Friday, wrote that Roe and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the 1992 decision that reaffirmed the right to abortion, were wrong had to be be overturned.
“We therefore hold that the Constitution does not confer a right to abortion. Roe and Casey must be overruled, and the authority to regulate abortion must be returned to the people and their elected representatives,” Alito wrote, in an opinion that was very similar to the leaked draft.
Joining Alito were Thomas and Justices Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, Amy Coney Barrett. The latter three justices are Trump appointees. Thomas first voted to overrule Roe 30 years ago.
Four justices would have left Roe and Casey in place.
The vote was 6-3 to uphold the Mississippi law, but Chief Justice John Roberts didn’t join his conservative colleagues in overturning Roe. He wrote that there was no need to overturn the broad precedents to rule in Mississippi’s favor.
Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan — the diminished liberal wing of the court — were in dissent.
“With sorrow—for this Court, but more, for the many millions of American women who have today lost a fundamental constitutional protection—we dissent,” they wrote, warning that abortion opponents now could pursue a nationwide ban “from the moment of conception and without exceptions for rape or incest.”
Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement that the Justice Department will protect providers and those seeking abortions in states where it is legal and also “work with other arms of the federal government that seek to use their lawful authorities to protect and preserve access to reproductive care.”
In particular, Garland said that the federal Food and Drug Administration has approved the use of Mifepristone for medication abortions.
More than 90% of abortions take place in the first 13 weeks of pregnancy, and more than half are now done with pills, not surgery, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports abortion rights.
Mississippi’s only abortion clinic, which was at the center of Friday’s case, continued to see patients Friday. Outside, men used a bullhorn to tell people inside that they would burn in hell. Clinic escorts wearing colorful vests used large speakers to blast Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down” at the protesters.
Mississippi, Alabama, Kentucky and Missouri are among 13 states, mainly in the South and Midwest, that already have laws on the books to ban abortion in the event Roe was overturned. Another half-dozen states have near-total bans or prohibitions after 6 weeks of pregnancy, before many women know they are pregnant.
In roughly a half-dozen other states, including West Virginia and Wisconsin, the fight will be over dormant abortion bans that were enacted before Roe was decided in 1973 or new proposals to sharply limit when abortions can be performed, according to Guttmacher.
Outside the barricaded Supreme Court, a crowd of mostly young women grew into the hundreds within hours of the decision. Some shouted, “The Supreme Court is illegitimate,” while waves of others, wearing red shirts with “The Pro-Life Generation Votes,” celebrated, danced and thrust their arms into the air.
The Biden administration and other defenders of abortion rights have warned that a decision overturning Roe also would threaten other high court decisions in favor of gay rights and even potentially contraception.
The liberal justices made the same point in their joint dissent: The majority “eliminates a 50-year-old constitutional right that safeguards women’s freedom and equal station. It breaches a core rule-of-law principle, designed to promote constancy in the law. In doing all of that, it places in jeopardy other rights, from contraception to same-sex intimacy and marriage. And finally, it undermines the Court’s legitimacy.”
And Thomas, the member of the court most open to jettisoning prior decisions, wrote a separate opinion in which he explicitly called on his colleagues to put the Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage, gay sex and contraception cases on the table.
But Alito contended that his analysis addresses abortion only. “Nothing in this opinion should be understood to cast doubt on precedents that do not concern abortion,” he wrote.
Whatever the intentions of the person who leaked Alito’s draft opinion, the conservatives held firm in overturning Roe and Casey.
In his opinion, Alito dismissed the arguments in favor of retaining the two decisions, including that multiple generations of American women have partly relied on the right to abortion to gain economic and political power.
Changing the makeup of the court has been central to the anti-abortion side’s strategy, as the dissenters archly noted. “The Court reverses course today for one reason and one reason only: because the composition of this Court has changed,” the liberal justices wrote.
In their Senate hearings, Trump’s three high-court picks carefully skirted questions about how they would vote in any cases, including about abortion.
• Contact reporter Peter Segall at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @SegallJnuEmpire. Mark Sherman of the Associated Press contributed reporting to this article.