United States Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, erasing constitutional right to abortion

The United States Supreme Court has overturned Roe v Wade, the landmark 1973 decision which recognised Americans' constitutional right to abortion and legalised it nationwide, handing a momentous victory to Republicans and religious conservatives who want to limit or ban the procedure.

Key points:

  • The court, in a 6-3 ruling, upheld a Mississippi law that bans abortion after 15 weeks
  • The majority found Roe v Wade was wrongly decided because the constitution makes no specific mention of abortion
  • Individual states will now be able to decide whether abortion is legal

The court, in a 6-3 ruling, upheld a Mississippi law that bans abortion after 15 weeks.

The majority of justices found Roe v Wade was wrongly decided because the US constitution makes no specific mention of abortion.

It will now be up to individual states to decide if abortion is legal.

A draft version of the ruling written by conservative Justice Samuel Alito indicating the court was likely to overturn Roe v Wade was leaked in May, igniting a political firestorm.

Friday's ruling authored by Justice Alito largely tracked his leaked draft.

"The Constitution makes no reference to abortion, and no such right is implicitly protected by any constitutional provision," Justice Alito wrote in the ruling.

Roe v Wade recognised that the right to personal privacy under the US Constitution protected a woman's ability to terminate her pregnancy.

The Supreme Court in a 1992 ruling called Planned Parenthood of South-Eastern Pennsylvania v Casey reaffirmed abortion rights and prohibited laws imposing an "undue burden" on abortion access.

"Roe was egregiously wrong from the start. Its reasoning was exceptionally weak, and the decision has had damaging consequences. And far from bringing about a national settlement of the abortion issue, Roe and Casey have enflamed debate and deepened division," Justice Alito added.

Barricades have been erected around the court to keep back the protesters gathered outside — after an armed man was arrested on June 8 near the home of conservative Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

The court's ruling goes against an international trend of easing abortion laws, including in such countries as Ireland, Argentina, Mexico and Colombia where the Catholic Church continues to wield considerable influence.

Former US president Barack Obama slammed the decision by the Supreme Court to throw out the right to abortion in the United States on Friday, calling it an attack on "essential freedoms."

"Today, the Supreme Court not only reversed nearly 50 years of precedent, it relegated the most intensely personal decision someone can make to the whims of politicians and ideologues — attacking the essential freedoms of millions of Americans," he tweeted.

Former US vice president Mike Pence said the right to abortion had been "consigned to the ash heap of history" as he hailed the court's ruling.

"By returning the question of abortion to the states and the people, this Supreme Court has righted a historic wrong, and reaffirmed the right of the American people to govern themselves," said Mr Pence, a Republican potential presidential candidate and leading anti-abortion campaigner.

The leading abortion provider in the United States, Planned Parenthood, vowed it would "never stop fighting" for those in need, after the constitutional right to the procedure was overturned.

"We know you may be feeling a lot of things right now — hurt, anger, confusion. Whatever you feel is OK," the organisation tweeted.