• Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

What each Supreme Court justice has said about abortion

·Senior Writer
·9 min read
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • John Roberts
    John Roberts
    Chief Justice of the United States
  • Clarence Thomas
    Clarence Thomas
    Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States
  • Stephen Breyer
    Stephen Breyer
    Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States
  • Brett Kavanaugh
    Brett Kavanaugh
    Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States
  • Neil Gorsuch
    Neil Gorsuch
    Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States

As the U.S. Supreme Court appears poised to dramatically weaken legal abortion protections — and possibly overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling — the views on abortion law expressed by the nine justices over the years are receiving fresh scrutiny.

Standing from left: Brett Kavanaugh, Elena Kagan,Neil Gorsuch and Amy Coney Barrett. Seated from left: Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, John Roberts, Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor.
Seated, from left: Justices Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, John Roberts, Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor. Standing, from left: Justices Brett Kavanaugh, Elena Kagan, Neil Gorsuch and Amy Coney Barrett. (Erin Schaff/Pool via Reuters)

Below is a roundup of how each justice has voted on abortion and what they’ve said during their confirmation hearings, in written opinions and elsewhere.

Chief Justice John Roberts
Age: 66
Nominated by President George W. Bush in 2005

Chief Justice John Roberts in April. (Erin Schaff/The New York Times/Poolvia AP)
Chief Justice John Roberts in April. (Erin Schaff/The New York Times/Poolvia AP)

At his 2005 confirmation hearing, Roberts declined to weigh in on Roe v. Wade and the court’s abortion precedents. But he did say that, in general, overturning precedent “is a jolt to the legal system.” In the same hearing, Roberts was also asked to explain his assertion in a legal brief, filed by George H.W. Bush’s administration, saying Roe had “no support in the text, structure, or history of the Constitution.” Roberts said he was simply acting as a lawyer representing a client.

In past abortion cases, Roberts has voted to uphold restrictions. In 2007, he voted with the majority to uphold a ban on a procedure that opponents call “partial-birth abortion.” In 2016, he dissented when the court ruled that a Texas law that imposed restrictions on abortion clinics was unconstitutional.

But last year, Roberts voted against a similar Louisiana law. In explaining his vote, the chief justice said he still believed that the 2016 case “was wrongly decided” but that it would be a mistake for the court to overturn it. He was also among the minority to vote against letting Texas’s controversial anti-abortion law take effect. The law, known as Texas S.B. 8, went into effect in September. The Supreme Court heard challenges to it last month but has yet to issue a ruling.

Justice Clarence Thomas
Age: 73
Nominated by President George H.W. Bush in 1991

Justice Clarence Thomas.
Justice Clarence Thomas. (Erin Schaff/Pool via Reuters)

As the longest-serving member of the Supreme Court, Thomas has repeatedly called for overruling Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the two cases that established and reaffirmed a woman’s right to an abortion.

In a 2000 dissent, Thomas called the court’s landmark decision in Roe v. Wade “grievously wrong.”

“Abortion is a unique act, in which a woman’s exercise of control over her own body ends, depending on one’s view, human life or potential human life,” he wrote. “Nothing in our Federal Constitution deprives the people of this country of the right to determine whether the consequences of abortion to the fetus and to society outweigh the burden of an unwanted pregnancy on the mother. Although a State may permit abortion, nothing in the Constitution dictates that a State must do so.”

He made similar comments in a 2020 dissent.

“Roe is grievously wrong for many reasons,” Thomas wrote, “but the most fundamental is that its core holding — that the Constitution protects a woman’s right to abort her unborn child — finds no support in the text of the Fourteenth Amendment.”

Justice Stephen Breyer
Age: 83
Nominated by President Bill Clinton in 1994

Justice Stephen Breyer.
Justice Stephen Breyer. (Erin Schaff/Pool via Reuters)

Breyer has authored the majority opinion in defense of abortion rights in two major rulings, including when the court struck down a Nebraska restriction in 2000.

“Millions of Americans believe that life begins at conception and consequently that an abortion is akin to causing the death of an innocent child,” he wrote. “Other millions fear that a law that forbids abortion would condemn many American women to lives that lack dignity, depriving them of equal liberty and leading those with least resources to undergo illegal abortions with the attendant risks of death and suffering.”

Despite the divide, Breyer wrote, “this Court, in the course of a generation, has determined and then redetermined that the Constitution offers basic protection to the woman’s right to choose.”

More recently, Breyer was among the four dissenters when the court voted 5-4 to allow the Texas law prohibiting abortions after six weeks to go into effect in September.

Justice Samuel Alito
Age: 71
Nominated by President George W. Bush in 2005

Justice Samuel Alito.
Justice Samuel Alito. (Erin Schaff/Pool via Reuters)

Alito has a long history of opposing abortion rights, voting to uphold every law restricting the procedure during his 15 years on the bench.

But his opposition to abortion predates his time on the high court. As a federal appeals court judge, he voted to uphold Pennsylvania abortion restrictions that were the focus of the Supreme Court’s Planned Parenthood v. Casey, including requiring a woman to notify her spouse before obtaining an abortion. (The court ultimately struck down the notification rule in Casey and reaffirmed the abortion right.)

And as a lawyer working in the Reagan administration in 1985, Alito wrote the memo that the government should publicly oppose Roe v. Wade, arguing that “the Constitution does not protect a right to an abortion.”

Justice Sonia Sotomayor
Age: 67
Nominated by President Barack Obama in 2009

Justice Sonia Sotomayor
Justice Sonia Sotomayor. (Erin Schaff/Pool via Reuters)

Sotomayor has reliably voted in favor of abortion rights since joining the court in 2009, and has been outspoken in her disdain for those who vote against them.

When the court allowed a Texas law prohibiting abortions after six weeks to go into effect in September, Sotomayor accused her colleagues in the majority of burying their “heads in the sand.”

And during Wednesday’s oral arguments in a case involving a restrictive Mississippi law, she questioned whether the legitimacy of the Supreme Court would endure if it overturned abortion rights amid its new conservative majority.

“Will this institution survive the stench that this creates in the public perception that the Constitution and its reading are just political acts?” Sotomayor said. “I don’t see how it is possible.”

Justice Elena Kagan
Age: 61
Nominated by President Barack Obama in 2010

Justice Elena Kagan.
Justice Elena Kagan. (Erin Schaff/Pool via Reuters)

Kagan has repeatedly voted in favor of abortion rights since joining the court more than 11 years ago. She voted with the majority when the court struck down the Texas and Louisiana restrictions on abortion clinics in 2016 and 2020, respectively.

More recently, Kagan called the new Texas law restricting abortions after six weeks “patently unconstitutional” and a “clear, and indeed undisputed, conflict with Roe and Casey.”

“This Court’s shadow-docket decision making every day becomes more unreasoned, inconsistent, and impossible to defend,” she added in her dissent.

Justice Neil Gorsuch
Age: 54
Nominated by President Donald Trump in 2017

Justice Neil Gorsuch.
Justice Neil Gorsuch. (Erin Schaff/Pool via Reuters)

Since joining the court in 2017, Gorsuch has voted twice in abortion cases — both times in favor of restrictions. In a 2020 dissent, he would have upheld restrictions on Louisiana’s abortion clinics. And he was among the majority in voting to allow Texas’s new restrictive abortion law to take effect in September.

During his Senate confirmation hearings in 2017, Gorsuch was asked about his vote as an appellate court judge in a case involving the funding of Planned Parenthood. (Gorsuch voted to reconsider a case that blocked Utah’s governor from cutting off the state’s funding of the women’s health provider.) He insisted he was concerned about procedural issues, not the subject matter.

“I do not care if the case is about abortion or widgets or anything else,” Gorsuch said in his testimony.

Justice Brett Kavanaugh
Age: 56
Nominated by President Donald Trump in 2018

Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
Justice Brett Kavanaugh. (Erin Schaff/Pool via Reuters)

Like Gorsuch's, Kavanaugh’s voting record on abortion as a justice is short: He dissented from the decision to block Louisiana’s law imposing restrictions on abortion clinics, and voted with the majority to allow Texas’s restrictive abortion law to take effect in September. But in both cases, he hinted that his vote could change.

During his contentious 2018 confirmation hearings, Kavanaugh was peppered with questions about Roe v. Wade, which he described as “settled as precedent.” (He also reportedly told Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, that Roe was “settled law” to help convince her to support his nomination.)

But during Wednesday’s oral arguments, Kavanaugh signaled that he’d be open to overturning it, citing a long list of Supreme Court cases that had ruled against precedent.

“If we think that the prior precedents are seriously wrong,” he asked at one point, “why then doesn’t the history of this court’s practice with respect to those cases tell us that the right answer is to return to the position of neutrality?”

As a federal appeals court judge in Washington, D.C., Kavanaugh sided with the Trump administration in an abortion case involving a pregnant 17-year-old immigrant in its custody. The Trump administration’s policy was to decline to help minors get abortions while in custody. Kavanaugh was on a three-judge panel that postponed the abortion, saying that if the teen could get a sponsor, she could have the abortion without the government’s involvement. The full appeals court later reversed the decision.

Justice Amy Coney Barrett
Age: 49
Nominated by President Donald Trump in 2020

Justice Amy Coney Barrett.
Justice Amy Coney Barrett. (Erin Schaff/Pool via Reuters)

Barrett has indicated that she is personally against abortion rights, but has also said justices should not impose their personal views on the law. In her only public vote as a justice, Barrett was among the 5-4 majority that allowed Texas’s restrictive abortion law to take effect in September.

As an appellate court judge, she twice voted to reconsider rulings that blocked Indiana abortion restrictions.

As a law professor at Notre Dame in 2016, she expressed skepticism that the Supreme Court would ever overturn Roe v. Wade.

“Roe’s core holding that, you know, women have a right to an abortion — I don’t think that would change,” Barrett said. “But I think the question of whether people can get very late-term abortions, how many restrictions can be put on clinics — I think that would change.”

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting