The Supreme Court has agreed to take up a case that presents one of the biggest challenges to abortion rights.
The case has the potential to change the last 50 years of precedence for abortion rights in the U.S. With a 6-3 conservative lean on the high court, the case has reproductive health and women’s health rights activists up in arms.
The case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, is based in Mississippi, where lawmakers banned abortion after 15 weeks. While it doesn’t overrule Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion care, it significantly burdens and will negatively impact those seeking abortion care services. Opponents argue it is unconstitutional. If proponents of the restrictions win a favorable ruling from the Supreme Court, many other states could follow with their own aggressive restrictions.
“The court cannot uphold this law without overturning the principal protections of Roe v. Wade,” Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, told reporters this week.
Several states have introduced anti-women’s health care legislation over the last decade, with many bills restricting access to reproductive care. Courts have overturned many restrictions that specifically limit abortion care after a number of weeks, though Mississippi is one of 11 states with trigger bans in place that would automatically overturn abortion rights if the Supreme Court allowed. However, the Supreme Court has repeatedly turned down state appeals over abortion laws. In this case, viability of the fetus is likely to play a role in the battle. Viability is currently defined around 24 weeks.
The Mississippi law also only impacts a small amount of abortions, as 90% occur during the first 13 weeks of pregnancy, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Many later-stage abortions are also due to medical necessity. The law is also nearly identical to one struck down by the court in 2016, said Chief Justice John Roberts, the AP reported.
"There is no doubt that this court has become overwhelmingly conservative and these Justices past decisions are troubling on reproductive rights, particularly abortion. However, we would hope that regardless of political ideology and judicial philosophy, all justices would agree that their principal function is to uphold constitutional rights, particularly as articulated in past precedent," Jamille Fields Allsbrook, director of women’s health and rights with the Women’s Initiative at the Center for American Progress, told The Whipp. "This should make the Court’s ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization an easy one – the Mississippi ban is inconsistent with long standing precedent. In fact, the Supreme Court did not need to take this case at all to resolve this issue."
With the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, who passed just before the court’s new term in October, the slant of the Supreme Court majorly shifted, giving anti-abortion activists new hope. She was replaced by Amy Coney Barrett, a conservative who is an opponent of abortion rights. Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh are also likely to vote in favor of upholding the Mississippi ban, after they “voted in dissent last year to allow Louisiana to enforce restrictions on doctors that could have closed two of the state’s three abortion clinics,” the AP reported.
Women’s rights supporters, including Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), viewed the case as a need for legislation that protects a woman’s right to choose.
Abortion care advocates have vowed to fight back.
"Our hearts are with the communities in Mississippi who are most harmed by attacks on abortion care, and we extend our solidarity to abortion providers, abortion funds, and advocates who continue to fight back," Lilith Fund Executive Director Amanda Beatriz Williams told The Whipp. "While there is uncertainty around the outcome of this case, we know one thing for sure: Roe has never been enough for people in the South who continuously struggle to access abortion care. We cannot depend on the courts alone to protect our communities. Time and time again, abortion funds like Lilith Fund show up for our communities when courts and lawmakers fail us. Nothing will deter us from our unwavering commitment to supporting people seeking abortion care."