On June 24, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the landmark cases Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which have guaranteed the right to abortion for nearly five decades.
In a 6-3 decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the court found that the U.S. Constitution does not protect abortion rights and that states have the authority to regulate access. The opinion was penned by Justice Samuel Alito, who called Roe “egregiously wrong from the start.”
“The Constitution makes no reference to abortion, and no such right is implicitly protected by any constitutional provision,” Alito wrote.
The outcome, which is expected to lead to abortion bans in approximately half the states, has far-reaching implications.
How Does the Ruling Impact Pennsylvanians?
Dobbs has no immediate effect in Pennsylvania. The court’s decision does not make abortion illegal in Pennsylvania or the neighboring states of New Jersey and Delaware. Currently, Pennsylvania law permits abortions up to the 24th week of pregnancy. And the procedure may be performed after 24 weeks if the life or health of the pregnant person is in danger. Those under 18 need a parent’s permission.
However, that could change depending on the results of the mid-term elections in November or new legislation. Decisions about abortions in Pennsylvania are now in the hands of our elected officials. Put another way, Pennsylvania lawmakers can now ban or criminalize abortion by passing a law because there are no longer any federal protections preventing them from doing so.
If abortions become illegal or restricted in Pennsylvania, residents might be forced to cross state lines for healthcare. Such a scenario has the potential to place a strain on marriages, especially when spouses disagree about the decision to terminate a pregnancy or the spouse seeking abortion care faces a fine or some other penalty.
Parents who disagree about abortion care for a minor child may find themselves waging a legal battle over parental consent. Court intervention will be required if the parents disagree on whether to abort. Currently, minors in Pennsylvania need permission from a parent, guardian or court order. One of the parents will have to file a petition asking a judge to prevent or authorize. It could also raise an issue if there is a custody order with a joint legal custody provision.
If Roe Can be Overturned, What Other Rulings Could Impact Family Law?
Justice Alito cautioned that the ruling should not be viewed as extending beyond abortion. However, in a concurring opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote that the court should reconsider Griswold v. Connecticut. That case invalidated a Connecticut law that made it illegal to use birth control devices or instruct on their use.
Justice Thomas has also indicated he thinks the court should reconsider Obergefell v. Hodges, the landmark civil rights case that said the Constitution protects same-sex marriages, which has many Americans fearful that marriage equality will be the next freedom to fall.
Both of these issues will impact the area of family law as couples and families may have to seek court intervention for decisions which were once made behind closed doors.
It is important to be vigilant, advocate for your needs, and seek legal counsel if questions about your rights should arise.