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What’s changed since abortion rights were last before the Supreme Court?

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Legal experts are all but certain that the U.S. Supreme Court is poised to cut back or even strike down abortion rights in its review of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization this term and render a decision that could prove to be among the court’s most consequential in decades. During the presidency of Donald Trump, conservatives added Justices Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett to the bench, shifting the high court’s ideology firmly to the right. Now, with a 6-3 conservative supermajority, the court appears ready to dismantle Roe v. Wade, which established that people have a constitutionally protected right to an abortion. 

It’s not the first time a conservative-led bench threatened to restrict abortion rights. Notably, parts of Roe v. Wade were upheld in Planned Parenthood v. Casey in 1992—the first time the landmark 1973 decision was directly challenged. But then, as now, advocates and legal experts contend that Roe’s core holding is in grave danger. And some experts argue that the 1992 ruling signaled the impermanence and eventual dismantling of abortion rights. 

“We all expected that Roe would be overturned” then, says Martha F. Davis, university distinguished professor of law at Northeastern, who teaches constitutional law and human-rights advocacy. “And in fact, people talk about the end of Roe now, but Roe ended in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, as far as I’m concerned.”

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