January 20, 2023

50 Years After Roe v. Wade

Russ Feingold President

Fifty years ago on Sunday, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its decision in Roe v. Wade and recognized the federal constitutional right to abortion, strengthening bodily autonomy and fundamental freedoms in the process. Last year, that federal constitutional right was stripped - also by our highest court. As we reflect back on Roe and what should have been its 50th anniversary, we recommit ourselves to a future that goes beyond the basic protections found in Roe and to achieving meaningful access to abortion care for all.

Even when Roe was the law of the land, abortion access remained elusive for too many – and disproportionately for people for color. Moreover, the protection offered by Roe in 2022 was a fraction of that offered by the original decision in 1972, thanks to the Supreme Court’s steady erosion of its own precedent before allowing Texas’s SB8 to go into effect and finally overturning Roe with Dobbs. Now, we continue to see the irreparable harm unleashed by the Court’s disastrous decision with increases to forced birth, maternal mortality, and income inequality.

The fight for abortion rights is and must be a part of the larger fight for economic justice, racial justice, and LGBTQ+ rights. These fundamental freedoms intersect and reinforce each other. Just as true, the erosion of one threatens the rest. The overturning of Roe is already serving as a permission slip by the Supreme Court for extremists in this country to target other fundamental freedoms. This is part of the far Right’s broader effort to thwart democracy – specifically any promise of a multiracial democracy - by pushing us closer to authoritarianism.

The goal is not to return to the uneven floor set by the Court in Roe. The goal is to end forced birth. To achieve meaningful abortion rights that are matched with universal abortion access. This is a multi-front effort and both an offensive and defensive one. As advocates pursue proactive ballot measures and abortion protections, conservative state legislatures continue to pass increasingly draconian abortion bans and to introduce bills that fly in the face of science and threaten the right to contraception.

Courts are on the frontlines of all of this. In the wake of Dobbs, we have seen several state courts recognize the protections provided by state constitutional provisions and strike down abortion bans. Abortion-advocates continue to challenge abortion bans and restrictions in federal courts as well. The outcomes of these efforts come down to the decisions of individual judges and underscores what we at ACS consistently say – courts matter.

President Biden and the Senate are making a concerted effort to nominate and confirm to the federal courts judges who are committed to the rule of law and to vindicating our fundamental freedoms. We at ACS are working with the White House in this pursuit, recruiting and recommending diverse, qualified candidates. But, it will take years for us to remedy the damage done by the Right’s packing of our courts with ideologues intent on advancing a partisan agenda. It will take years to achieve a federal judiciary that reflects the public it serves and that consistently and reliably vindicates our fundamental freedoms.

We are in this for the long haul. We stand with abortion providers, with abortion advocates, and with people impacted by the absence of reproductive justice. This is an organizing, legislative, and litigious battle. It was when we were defending Roe, and it continues to be so as we pursue meaningful reproductive rights and access.

Reproductive Rights, Women's rights