Intended for healthcare professionals


The US turns its back on women’s reproductive rights

BMJ 2022; 377 doi: (Published 17 May 2022) Cite this as: BMJ 2022;377:o1206
  1. Lawrence O Gostin, director
  1. 1O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law, Georgetown Law, Washington, DC, USA
  1. gostin{at}

Sweeping restrictions criminalise women and health workers, widen inequality, and increase deaths

On 2 May 2022, Politico published a leaked draft of a US Supreme Court opinion overturning the 1973 landmark case establishing a woman’s constitutional right to abortion before fetal viability (Roe v Wade).1 The leaked opinion concerned a current case, Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health, challenging a Mississippi law that bans abortion after 15 weeks’ gestation, except in medical emergencies or the case of severe fetal abnormality.2 In it, the highly conservative Justice Samuel Alito said, “the Constitution makes no reference to abortion.”

If it holds, the Supreme Court opinion would reverse half a century of settled precedent, including a high profile judgment in 1992 ruling that states cannot impose an “undue burden” on a woman’s right to choose.3 Nearly 60% of Americans support legal abortion, but we now face the possibility of two alternative Americas—one in which abortion is safe and lawful, and one where it is criminalised.4

If Roe v Wade is overturned, 26 states are certain or likely to ban abortions, including 13 with “trigger” laws that will …

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