Supreme Court Will Weigh in on Mississippi's 15-Week Abortion Ban, a Direct Threat to Roe v. Wade

The U.S. Supreme Court announced on Monday that it will review the constitutionality of Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban, which is a direct challenge to the protections codified by Roe v. Wade in 1973. The decision to hear the case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, is a victory for anti-choice activists and a signal that the court’s new conservative majority may be poised to roll back reproductive rights across the country. 

Reproductive-rights organizations reacted to the decision with alarm. “This is the moment anti-abortion politicians have been waiting for since Roe v. Wade was decided: The Supreme Court just announced that it will hear a case that could decimate, if not take away entirely, the constitutional right to abortion,” Jennifer Dalven, director of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, said in a statement on Monday. Staci Fox, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Southeast Advocates said, “We knew the day would come when that dangerous legislation would not only threaten the health, lives, and freedoms of Mississippians, but the entire country. That day is finally here. This is why elections matter.” Christian LoBue of NARAL Pro-Choice America called it “an ominous sign and an alarming reminder that the threat to the legal right to abortion is imminent and real.”

Mississippi was one of several states to pass purposefully unconstitutional abortion laws during the Trump administration, with the hope that the laws would be heard by a Supreme Court open to further restricting abortion. Donald Trump appointed three justices to the Supreme Court — Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett — solidifying the conservatives’ 6 to 3 court-majority. The Mississippi House passed the “Gestational Age Act,” outlawing abortion after 15 weeks, in 2018. Lower courts have ruled the law is unconstitutional; Mississippi asked the Supreme Court to hear the case after the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the law in December 2019.

In its announcement Monday, the court said it would only weigh one of the three questions that Mississippi requested it consider: whether all pre-viability bans on elective abortions are unconstitutional. Viability refers to the period — usually around 22 to 24 weeks of pregnancy — that a fetus might survive outside a uterus. In 1992, the Supreme Court declared in its ruling on Planned Parenthood v. Casey that states can’t impose significant restrictions before viability. This case could change that. 

In a statement, Diane Derzis, the owner of Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the last remaining abortion clinic in Mississippi and the respondent in the case, emphasized the toll the ban would have on her patients if the Supreme Court upholds it.

“As the only abortion clinic left in Mississippi, we see patients who have spent weeks saving up the money to travel here and pay for childcare, for a place to stay, and everything else involved. If this ban were to take effect, we would be forced to turn many of those patients away, and they would lose their right to abortion in this state,”  Derzis said. “Mississippi politicians have created countless barriers for people trying to access abortion, intentionally pushing them later into pregnancy. It’s all part of their strategy to eliminate abortion access entirely.”

The Center for Reproductive Rights, part of a coalition of groups representing the Jackson Women’s Health Organization, said if the court upholds the law, the consequences will be “devastating.” 

“Over 20 states would prohibit abortion outright. Eleven states — including Mississippi — currently have trigger bans on the books which would instantaneously ban abortion if Roe is overturned,” Nancy Northup, president of the center, said in a statement. “Already, abortion is nearly impossible to access for people in states like Mississippi, where lawmakers have been chipping away at the right to abortion for decades. We will keep fighting to make sure that people do not lose this fundamental right to control their own bodies and futures.”

The Supreme Court will hear arguments in the case when its new term starts in October, with decision is not expected until spring or summer of 2022.

 

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