The move, wrote Stephen Breyer, one of the liberal justices, “can only cause one to wonder which cases the Court will overrule next.” Lest anyone wondered what sort of case he had in mind, he cited Planned Parenthood v Casey, a ruling from 1992 that upheld Roe.
Some pro-life activists are cautious about the prospects of overturning Roe. Clarke Forsythe, senior lawyer for Americans United for Life, which has drawn up successful state-level abortion regulations, says his organisation watches carefully every time the court overturns a precedent:“it happens more often than many imagine”. But he also points out that the court, and in particular Chief Justice John Roberts, seem in no hurry to overturn Roe. He does not expect the justices to take on a direct challenge for “two or three years”.
That is probably right. Casting himself as a pro-life warrior is useful for Mr Trump, who needs to keep the support of conservative evangelicals in 2020. But actually overturning Roe before the next presidential election would be an electoral disaster for Republicans, since a large majority of Americans believe abortions should be legal up to the third trimester.
Undermining early abortion rights can be risky for state lawmakers, too. Georgia, which last week became the fourth state this year to pass a heartbeat bill, has long been deeply conservative. But it is becoming more diverse and urban, as the inroads made by Democrats in November’s midterms attest. A recent poll found that more voters in the state opposed the heartbeat bill than supported it.