Dissenting justices says women's rights have been stripped, others now under threat

Abortion rights protesters demonstrate outside the US Supreme Court. PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG) - The US Supreme Court's decision to wipe out the constitutional right to abortion sparked blistering dissent from three liberal justices who said the conservative majority had eroded women's rights and may soon target rights to contraception and gay marriage.

By overturning the landmark Roe vs Wade decision, the majority stripped away the rights of women from the "very moment of fertilisation", Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan wrote.

"With sorrow - for this Court, but more, for the many millions of American women who have today lost a fundamental constitutional protection - we dissent."

They added, "Whatever the exact scope of the coming laws, one result of today's decision is certain: the curtailment of women's rights, and of their status as free and equal citizens."

By forcing women to give birth, "a state can thus transform what, when freely undertaken, is a wonder into what, when forced, may be a nightmare", the dissenters wrote.

The liberal justices argued that the ruling gives states free rein to curtail abortion at any stage whether it be after "ten weeks, or five or three or one-or again, from the moment of fertilisation".

They warned that states could prevent women from having abortions even if they face death or physical harm.

Women who can't afford to travel to states where abortion is legal will be hurt the most, the dissenters said.

The joint dissent blasted the majority for focusing so heavily on laws put in place at a time when women weren't allowed to vote.

"When the majority says that we must read our foundational charter as viewed at the time of ratification (except that we may also check it against the Dark Ages), it consigns women to second-class citizenship," the dissenters wrote.

The drafters of the original constitution "did not perceive women as equals, and did not recognise women's rights", the liberal justices wrote.

The conservative majority's "cavalier approach to overturning this Court's precedents" signals it will target more freedoms established by the court, justices Breyer, Sotomayor and Kagan said.

"And no one should be confident that this majority is done with its work," the dissenters wrote.

The right recognised by Roe and related cases "does not stand alone", they said.

"To the contrary, the court has linked it for decades to other settled freedoms involving bodily integrity, familial relationships, and procreation."

The right to terminate a pregnancy arose from the right to purchase and use contraception, which led more recently to the rights of same-sex intimacy and marriage, the dissenters wrote.

"They are all part of the same constitutional fabric, protecting autonomous decision-making over the most personal of life decisions," the liberal justices said.

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