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Opinion: Chief Justice Roberts Was Wrong to Use Stare Decisis in Recent Abortion Case

Updated: Oct 18, 2021

The opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author.

On June 29, the Supreme Court announced its decision for June Medical Services LLC v. Russo, an abortion-related case that had worked its way up to the highest court. The law in question, written by Katrina Jackson, a pro-life Democrat in Lousiana, required abortion providers to have admitting priveleges at a local hospital. In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court struck down the law.

What I found most interesting—and alarming—about the decision was not the outcome, but rather Chief Justice John Roberts’ reasoning for siding against the law. Roberts had previously ruled in favor of an identical law in a 2016 Supreme Court case, Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, in which the law requiring abortion providers to have hopsital admitting privileges was struck down, despite Roberts’ dissent. What caused Roberts’ change of heart? A conversion to the pro-choice side? No, Roberts himself recently stated that he “continues to believe that [Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt] was wrongly decided.” According to Roberts, his flip-flop was due to stare decisis, also known as the doctrine of precedent. In other words, Roberts struck down a law that he believes is legitimate, simply because he wanted to respect the Court’s previous ruling.

Let me break down why this reasoning is completely ludicrous and stands in the way of progress. If Roberts were to have his way, once a Supreme Court has made a decision, the Court can never overturn it. This should alarm everyone, not just pro-lifers, because of one simple reason: the Supreme Court makes mistakes. Let me say it one more time: the Supreme Court makes mistakes. Don’t believe me? Just look through a history textbook. In the 1800s, the Supreme Court upheld racial segregation in Plessy v. Ferguson and ruled that anyone of African descent could not be a United States citizen in Dred Scott v. Sanford. Need another example? In Korematsu v. United States, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of allowing over 100,000 Japanese-Americans to be forced into internment camps without trial. Plessy and Korematsu were eventually overturned by later Supreme Court decisions (Brown v. Board of Education and Trump v. Hawaii), while Dred Scott was invalidated by the Fourteenth Amendment. So, Chief Justice Roberts, do you believe that the Supreme Court should have “respected precedent” and continued to allow racial segregation and internment without due process?

Roberts certainly has a difficult job in maintaining the Court’s legitimacy in times of political polarization. However, in failing to protect women and their babies from unsafe abortion practices, Roberts has made the Court less legitimate. We need the Supreme Court to be courageous and stand up for human rights (yes, fetuses are humans who deserve human rights) by overturning Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that fabricated the unconstitutional right to kill children in the womb. This “right to abortion” has grown exponentially, and now the Democratic Party Platform calls for unrestricted access to abortion, up to the point of birth, while demanding that taxpayers take up the check.

When the Court reversed Plessy v. Ferguson, it became more legitimate because it upheld the rights of the oppressed. Today, children in the womb are torn limb from limb through abortion, the greatest human rights violation of our lifetime. As a generation that demands social justice, Gen Z must continue urging the Supreme Court, especially the Chief Justice, to fight for what is right, even if it means overturning precedent. Progress cannot be made unless those in power are courageous enough to change the status-quo.

Avery is writing with a pseudonym. He is a student at UCLA who lives in Los Angeles, California. Some issues he is passionate about are defending children in the womb from abortion, protecting the environment from pollution and climate change, and improving healthcare access for all. He is affiliated with Live Action UCLA, an organization that provides care and assistance to pregnant college students.


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