On the morning of June 24, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) voted in a landmark decision to strike down Roe v. Wade, a 1973 precedent that ensured the constitutional right to abortion. After almost 50 years of reproductive freedom, the recent decision has resulted in an increase in state’s ability to regulate reproductive healthcare as seen prior to the original ruling that guaranteed abortion as a federally protected right.
The SCOTUS decision does not come as a surprise — in a leaked draft authored by Justice Samuel Alito and obtained by POLITICO in early May, it became clear that Roe v. Wade’s precedence as settled law was uncertain. Moreover, the constitutional legitimacy of Roe v. Wade has been under constant scrutiny since its passage nearly 50 years ago, with the related discourse and dialogue becoming more partisan in recent years.
In 2018, the Center for Reproductive Rights filed the case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, in order to combat Mississippi’s ban on abortion following 15 weeks of pregnancy. The Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the only abortion clinic in the entire state, claimed that this ban was unconstitutional as it directly violated the reproductive freedoms enshrined within Roe v. Wade.
A federal district court immediately struck down the ban in Mississippi on the basis of constitutionality, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit corroborated the decision based on the same premise. However, in 2020, Mississippi appealed to the Supreme Court to decide whether pre-viability limitations on abortion defy the reproductive rights outlined by Roe v. Wade.
Four years after the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health case first gained national notoriety, the Supreme Court of the United States did not side with the plaintiffs with a vote of 6-3 and, additionally, withdrew the constitutional right to abortion by overturning Roe v. Wade. Among those who voted in favor of the overturn were Justices Alito, Thomas, Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, and Barrett. The smaller group dissenting was comprised of Justices Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan.
Chief Justice Roberts, while not in favor of completely overturning Roe v. Wade, made it clear that he concurred with the judgment of the conservative-leaning majority of the court. In his opinion, he wrote that, “The Court’s decision to overrule Roe and Casey is a serious jolt to the legal system — regardless of how you view those cases. A narrower decision rejecting the misguided viability line would be markedly less unsettling, and nothing more is needed to decide this case.”
The SCOTUS decision has been met with national anxiety and uncertainty. While many anticipated the decision to overturn the landmark precedent since the draft leak in May, the actual repercussions of the decision are not as concrete and are manifesting as a plethora of legal gray areas. Specifically, Justice Alito’s 78-page opinion highlighted the relevance of state autonomy in deciding how the SCOTUS ruling would impact abortion laws in a particular state.
State autonomy will result in vastly differing policies and laws on abortion in states depending on their politics. 15 states have trigger laws in place that were orchestrated to be enacted immediately following the overturn of Roe v. Wade. Even when the landmark decision was regarded as settled law, many states including Georgia, Ohio, and Idaho tried to implement bans on abortions following six weeks of pregnancy. Those proposed policies will be re-introduced in many of the same states now that the constitutional right to an abortion is no longer protected.
During a live briefing last Friday, President Biden assured a national audience that it is still legal for individuals to travel to other states for abortion access, if it becomes illegal in their home state. Attorney General Merrick Garland strongly echoed President Biden’s remarks.
The SCOTUS decision has sent reverberations throughout the nation, with a microcosm of that discourse present in Atlanta and, more specifically, at the Institute. This past weekend, hundreds of protests took place across the United States. Pro-choice and pro-life advocates filled the streets to either voice disapproval or support for the decision and the atmosphere in Atlanta was no different.
Many Tech students attended the protests in Downtown Atlanta to take part in their civic liberty of assembly afforded to them by the First Amendment of the Constitution. When asked about the protest, Grace Trebilcock, ME ‘24, said, “It was quite the experience. There were so many people there, and so many people on the streets that were supportive. It was as if we all moved with one heartbeat and one soul. I just hope that everyone that goes to protests remembers that this is a ruling that affects everyone — women, LGBT, POC, minorities — and that it’s not just a women’s rights issue. I fear it’s only the beginning, but we must do all we can to protect the groups that are going to feel the consequences of the ruling the most.”
Other frustrated students emphasized the importance of increased healthcare and well-being support on campus in the absence of access to legal abortions. Celina Wu, BME ‘24, said, “Georgia Tech will need to allocate more resources to support their students who need reproductive healthcare. I can only hope that students can be there for each other and connect as a community now to fight for choice. We can encourage USG to expand their healthcare benefits to all employees, like increased maternal leave and more paid time off for parents in the absence of legal abortion access.”
When asked about what role organizations on campus like Stamps and C.A.R.E could play in supporting students, faculty, and staff, Wu replied, “I hope that healthcare organizations on campus can lead a conversation on reproductive healthcare and show support for people in the Georgia Tech and the Atlanta community who need help finding access to an abortion if proposed laws to limit abortion access in Georgia do go into place. They, in collaboration with Stamps Health Services, should work to make education on abortion more accessible to all students, faculty, and staff; I hope that we students can educate ourselves and each other, that we may organize events and demonstrations, and engage in crucial conversations about abortion rights post-Roe.”
However, student sentiment regarding the ruling is not homogenous. For pro-life leaning students, the SCOTUS ruling affirms their religious and social ideologies, but even those views aren’t always black and white.
One such student, Grayson Nour, CHEM, ‘24, said that, “Originally, I have always stated that my religious beliefs support the overturn, to choose life and in any instance, fight for the life of a fetus. However, as a woman, I have come to also believe that it should not be up to the government to decide; at the end of the day, it is my body, and it should be my choice, no questions asked. My faith has led me to believe that abortion is wrong, but that is my own personal belief that does not have to be shared by others, and in no way is it my job or responsibility to push that belief onto other people. I may have an opinion, but so does everyone — it is their choice, not the government’s.”
In terms of the Institute’s role in supporting students, Nour wants to see the campus community handle the situation in a multi-faceted manner.
Nour said, “I hope that Stamps and other healthcare organizations will work to help make resources known and available to students, and not just one side of resources. For example, I think it is helpful that those who believe in abortion are being made aware of their safe resources. However, you do not hear a ton about pregnancy resources or the number of centers that work with women to support them in their pregnancy, wanted or not. So, if organizations worked to make students aware of resources supporting both sides, whether pro-life or not, that would be the right path.”
Differences in opinion regarding the controversial SCOTUS ruling exist in various pockets on campus and on a state and national level. During such times, the student body looks to the Institute administration and health organizations on campus for leadership and resources to combat misinformation. With the rise of legal dilemmas and partisan discourse surrounding the ruling, only time will tell to what extent the overturn of Roe v. Wade will alter abortion access in the United States.
For more resources on campus for mental health support, students can access care.gatech.edu/. Healthcare inquiries on campus can be directed to health.gatech.edu/ and more information regarding birth control and legal abortions can be accessed via plannedparenthood.org/.
The Georgia Tech Student Government Association (SGA) has also put together a thorough guide outlining resources for reproductive health and advocacy that can be found at docs.google.com/document/d/1TKptx5IVGF6ZCQ2G_ MuxKMa-V9I1fqYCOZCH-peuU9X8/edit.