On Monday, the Supreme Court quietly ruled to vacate a lower court decision supporting minors’ abortion rights. The lower court ruling, handed down by the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Missouri last April, upheld that minors have a right to get abortion care without parental notification if they obtain permission from a judge. Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson was the lone justice on the bench who dissented against striking this down.
The Supreme Court didn’t offer a detailed explanation or render written opinions other than Jackson’s dissent. Its decision seems rooted in the overturning of Roe v. Wade—abortion is banned in Missouri, rendering the 8th Circuit’s decision last year moot. Jackson disputed this legal conclusion, arguing that the court has been too liberal with nullifying lower courts’ decisions lately, in the absence of “extraordinary circumstances.”
Put simply, Jackson’s dissent doesn’t appear political on the surface, or invoke any stated support for abortion rights. But it’s notable that Jackson was the only Justice to vote against striking down a court ruling that favored young people’s reproductive rights. In her dissent, Jackson wrote that “mere disagreement with the decision that one seeks to have vacated cannot suffice.”
Politico notes that the high court’s ruling this week “will have no practical effect in Missouri”—neither minors nor anyone in the state can legally get abortion care there under most circumstances. And all of this is after the fact: The 17-year-old whose case launched this legal battle already got her abortion, then sued when the court notified her parents afterward. She then won her case, which the Supreme Court just struck down.
Minors’ access to abortion has only become more fraught post-Roe, as states that already ban abortion are increasingly cracking down on young people’s ability to travel across state lines for care. Earlier this year, Idaho legislators introduced a bill to equate helping minors travel out-of-state for abortion with human trafficking. Those in violation could face up to five years in prison. And, of course, even with Roe, minors’ abortion rights have always been fraught: In the last year, there have been a number of high-profile, utterly dystopian cases of judges ruling to deny teens care.
In Florida, last January, a judge cited a teen’s GPA to rule that she wasn’t responsible enough to get an abortion. Also in Florida, just last summer, another judge similarly ruled that a 16-year-old who didn’t have parents, herself, wasn’t “sufficiently mature” enough to get an abortion. In states that require teens to obtain judicial bypass to get an abortion, local judges have always held outsized power over the entire scope of their futures. And, all too often, they find virtually any utterly nonsensical, dehumanizing reason to render humiliating rulings and deny teens their rights.
Anna, a young woman in Texas, previously recounted to Jezebel her own experience getting a judicial bypass to get an abortion in Texas at age 17 after being denied emergency contraception at her local pharmacy due to her age. The legal process, she said, required her to “memorize the whole abortion procedure, describe to them how it works, describe the actual medical insurance that you use, and what parts of the body and what kind of drugs” are involved in an abortion—a “dehumanizing process” that involved the judge at one point telling her “girls don’t even feel good when they have sex.”
As the Supreme Court strikes down the 8th Circuit Court’s ruling in an ultimately symbolic blow, it’s a stark reminder of just how much minors are up against to access abortion—and how little help they receive from those in power.