The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Friday there is no constitutional right to an abortion, reversing decades of precedent and creating significant health and safety risks for pregnant people in 26 states certain or likely to ban — or severely restrict – abortion access.
But in New York, abortions are still legal up to 24 weeks of pregnancy, and after that point in special circumstances. State officials have already taken steps to further solidify abortion access in recent weeks, in anticipation of the Supreme Court decision, which was telegraphed in a leaked draft opinion in early May.
“Today the Supreme Court rolled back the rights of millions of Americans, disregarding their interests and — more importantly — their lives,” New York Gov. Kathy Hochul tweeted Friday.
Abortion rights are similarly protected in neighboring New Jersey, and both states may soon see an influx of people traveling from parts of the country where abortion is illegal or severely limited. It’s a trend that has already begun as more states have restricted abortion access in recent years.
The Supreme Court decision was issued in the case Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. In a majority opinion, the Court overruled the longstanding precedent set in 1973 by Roe v. Wade, which first established the right to an abortion on a national scale.
The court also overturned the 1992 decision in Casey v. Planned Parenthood that reaffirmed Roe and said states could not impose an “undue burden” on a person seeking an abortion.
The decision was 6 to 3. Justice Samuel Alito delivered the opinion of the Court and was joined in the majority by Justices Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, Amy Coney Barrett and John Roberts, while Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor and Stephen Breyer dissented.
The majority opinion rejected the notion that the right to an abortion stems from privacy rights or the right to liberty conferred by the Constitution.
“Attempts to justify abortion through appeals to a broader right to autonomy and to define one’s ‘concept of existence’ prove too much,” the ruling continued. “Those criteria, at a high level of generality, could license fundamental rights to illicit drug use, prostitution, and the like.”
Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization arose out of the Mississippi law banning most abortions after 15 weeks of gestation — well before a fetus is considered viable outside the womb. It is one of many cases that has tested the limits of state restrictions on abortion, but it’s the first to reach the Supreme Court and directly ask for a reversal of Roe v. Wade — something that became more likely with the recent appointments of conservative justices.
“This is an attack on women and anyone in need of abortion care,” Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement Friday.
This is a full-scale assault on pregnant people, their health care providers, and their support systems. This is a racial, gender and economic justice catastrophe.”
Abortion travel is expected to increase with the fall of Roe v. Wade — along with attempts by anti-abortion states to limit it. Already, the share of New York abortions provided to out-of-state residents has increased as other states have passed more restrictive laws. In 2019, 8.9% of abortions provided in New York were for non-residents — nearly triple the share provided to out-of-towners in 2012, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In New Jersey, 5.9% of abortions provided in 2019 were for people from other states.
What the ruling means for protecting abortion providers and aid groups
There’s still a lot of uncertainty about the full impact this ruling will have, including the potential legal consequences for New York abortion providers serving out-of-state residents, or groups like New York’s Brigid Alliance that aim to help people from states where abortion is restricted to get that care elsewhere. Even before the draft opinion was leaked, legal experts began ringing alarm bells about the potential for states to reach across their borders to prevent abortion.
Speaking with Gothamist in late May, Odile Schalit, executive director of the Brigid Alliance, said she was anxious about the prospect of her organization being hit with expensive lawsuits for assisting people with getting abortions.
“This is the thing that keeps me up at night,” she said. “There is very real reason to be concerned about this, and there's very real reason to be concerned that practical support organizations will be the next wave of abortion providers,” in terms of how they’re targeted.
As New York’s legislative session wrapped up in early June, lawmakers pushed through a handful of measures to protect those providing, assisting with and seeking an abortion in New York, which were signed by Hochul on June 13th.
New York now has laws to protect clinicians from facing malpractice claims or professional misconduct charges for providing reproductive health services, and to help those who might be targeted by anti-abortion activists to keep their addresses confidential.
New York lawmakers also passed legislation to shield abortion patients coming from other states and the health care providers that serve them from out-of-state legal action. That legislation states the governor cannot recognize extradition requests related to abortions that took place in New York and courts cannot issue subpoenas for most cases involving an abortion. It also prohibits law enforcement from arresting anyone for performing or assisting with an abortion and from cooperating with such investigations.
Another law makes it possible to sue someone for attempting to interfere with rights that are protected in New York.
I want everyone to know that an abortion remains safe, accessible and legal in New York.
After the budget was finalized in April, Hochul also sidestepped the Legislature to announce that the state was setting aside $35 million to assist abortion providers. Of that, $25 million — taken from the state Department of Health’s emergency fund — will go to an Abortion Provider Support Fund that will help providers scale up and cover unreimbursed care. Another $10 million, sourced from the state Division of Criminal Justice Services, will go towards providing more security at reproductive health clinics.
The New York Department of Health sent out a request for applications for the funding in early June to clinics primarily serving low-income patients that are funded under the state’s Comprehensive Family Planning and Reproductive Health Services Program. These providers will get $10 million of the funds being distributed by the Health Department and the remaining $15 million will be made available to other abortion providers.
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy has sought to get state lawmakers to support similar measures to protect abortion providers from legal action and establish a dedicated abortion fund, but has so far been unsuccessful.
Still, both he and Hochul have sought to reassure residents that their abortion rights aren’t going anywhere and that out-of-towners seeking abortions are welcome.
“I want everyone to know that an abortion remains safe, accessible and legal in New York,” Hochul continued in a statement Friday. “Our state will always be a safe harbor for those seeking access to abortion care.”
"We're never going to be a state that looks like Texas or Georgia or other states — Oklahoma — that are going in the direction of taking rights away from people," Murphy said in a recent interview with NPR. "We are going to expand rights."
It’s likely that abortion-friendly states will continue to have to adapt to the shifting legal landscape in a post-Roe world, Katharine Bodde of the New York Civil Liberties Union told Gothamist as New York’s legislative session wrapped up in early June.
The NYCLU and reproductive health groups have pushed New York lawmakers to take the first step toward putting an amendment protecting abortion rights in the state constitution, which is harder to accomplish than passing regular laws. But talks stalled in the final days of New York’s legislative session.
This is a developing story and will be updated throughout the day.