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Roe v. Wade, Dobbs v. Jackson,
and Abortion in Minnesota

The U.S. Supreme Court will soon hand down its decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a major new abortion case that could potentially overturn Roe v. Wade and affect abortion laws for decades to come. The decision is expected sometime in June, but could come at any time.


Here's what you need to know about Roe, Dobbs, and what it all means for Minnesota.



On Jan. 22, 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court decided in Roe v. Wade to eliminate laws protecting unborn children nationwide. Abortion must be legal for any reason before the point of fetal viability, the Court said, and at least for "health" reasons even after. In the Court’s Doe v. Bolton ruling, decided on the same day, the Court defined "health" so broadly that virtually any reason would justify a late-term abortion.


In the years since, in decisions such as 1992's Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the Court has modified its approach and allowed for some types of modest pro-life laws (like Minnesota's Woman’s Right to Know and parental notification laws). Nevertheless, the Court has continued to rule that the Constitution includes a right to abortion.


But Roe was a huge legal mistake. The Constitution doesn’t say anything about abortion. The Court argued that the 14th Amendment includes an implicit right to abortion, but many of the same Americans who ratified that Amendment (in 1868) also voted to enact state laws protecting unborn children from abortion. They didn't agree to a "right to abortion"—they rejected one. John Hart Ely, an eminent legal scholar who personally supported abortion, famously concluded that Roe is "bad because it is bad constitutional law, or rather because it is not constitutional law and gives almost no sense of an obligation to try to be."



The consequences of the Court’s mistake have been disastrous. A whole class of innocent human beings has been excluded from the law’s protection against lethal violence. More than 63 million unborn children have been legally killed nationwide—including about 670,000 in Minnesota. Women, men, and families have been wounded.


In the decades since Roe v. Wade, pro-lifers have worked to educate and persuade the public, help pregnant women in need, and enact laws increasing protection (to the extent possible) for unborn children and their mothers. And we have made significant progress. Abortions nationwide and in Minnesota have dropped about 50 percent since their peaks. Yet nearly 900,000 abortions still take place each year across the country, including about 10,000 in Minnesota. 



The Dobbs v. Jackson case involves a Mississippi law that protects unborn children after 15 weeks—earlier than the Court has previously allowed. The question before the Court is whether protection at this pre-viability stage is constitutionally permissible. In Roe v. Wade and later decisions, the Court held that it is not. The Dobbs case gives the Court a chance to reconsider. 



No one knows for sure how the Court will rule. In early May, a draft opinion in the Dobbs v. Jackson case was leaked to the media. The leaked opinion, which would overturn Roe v. Wade, is only a draft and not an actual ruling of the Court. Nevertheless, we are very hopeful that, when the Court does hand down its official decision, it will reverse Roe, recognizing that abortion-on-demand is not required by the Constitution.


Overturning Roe would not protect unborn children nationwide (which is an ultimate pro-life objective), but it would allow states again to determine their own abortion policies. Many states would respond by protecting unborn children, and many lives would be saved as a result.


Another possible outcome is that the Court upholds the Mississippi law and eliminates Roe’s viability standard, but does not address Roe further or fully overturn it. The Court could also issue an even narrower ruling that permits states to protect unborn children before viability, but remands the Dobbs case back to a lower court. This possibility, like the first two, would be a significant step forward and a victory for unborn children and their mothers.


The worst-case scenario is that the Court upholds Roe and strikes down the Mississippi law.



However the Court rules, abortion policy in Minnesota won’t immediately change. That’s because in a 1995 decision, Doe v. Gomez, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled that our state Constitution includes a right to abortion. This mistaken ruling would require abortion-on-demand in Minnesota even if the U.S. Supreme Court no longer imposes it at the national level. Like Roe, the Gomez decision must also be overturned. 


The decision in Dobbs could have major lifesaving ramifications. Overturning Roe would be a huge step in the right direction—one that so many of us have dedicated so much time and effort to achieving. In Minnesota, however, pro-lifers have a lot of work left to do. We will keep working—harder than ever—to change hearts and minds, support pregnant women, and pass protective laws.