The pivotal case on abortion rights was heard by the U.S. Supreme court this week. The Mississippi Supreme Court abortion case, which opened on Wednesday, is being described as the greatest threat to reproductive freedom in a generation because it has the potential to overwrite previous rulings that enshrined a person’s right to abortion—namely, the 1973 Roe v. WadeAmerican Supreme Court ruled that abortion was legal in the United States.
In Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health OrganizationMississippi state lawyers want to see a statewide ban against abortion after 15 weeks. Many people consider the law unconstitutional. Letting it stand would directly undermine. Roe, which guarantees a person’s right to end a pregnancy before the fetus reaches viability—when it’s developed enough to survive outside of the womb. (At this point, the logic goes that the state is interested in the potential life of the unborn infant and not the parent carrying it, so restrictions can be imposed. The current consensus is that viability takes place around 23 weeks. New York Times reports.
While the viability cutoff is imperfect—many criticize it as arbitrary and illogical, and the exact number of weeks has evolved with medical technology, as the New York Times reports—the Court has historically upheld this core tenet of Roe. Another landmark abortion case is being challenged Dobbs, 1992’s Planned Parenthood v. CaseyThe Court reaffirmed Roe and declared that that “a State may not prohibit any woman from making the ultimate decision to terminate her pregnancy before viability,” as Vox explains. This ruling also clarified that no law could place an “undue hardship” on anyone seeking a pre-viable pregnancy.
The Mississippi Supreme Court abortion case is full of legal complexities—and abortion law in the U.S. is generally convoluted and disjointed—but the essential issue at stake in Dobbs is “whether all pre-viability prohibitions on elective abortions are unconstitutional,” according to the SCOTUSblog. This means that the Court will decide whether states can ban abortions many weeks before a fetus can live outside of the womb. The Court would overrule the pre-viable abortion right first guaranteed by the Supreme Court if it upholds Mississippi’s state law banning abortion after fifteen weeks. RoeThen, it was upheld by Casey.
RoeThe Court could declare the ruling invalid. However, it is possible that the Court could overturn the decision. RoeThe constitutional right to abortion technically stands, but it is only in name. However, indirectly removing access rights and/or access through legal maneuvering, and/or other restrictions, as Vox explains. Lawyers from Mississippi have already offered backup arguments that would allow the Mississippi law to stand without being completely overruled. RoeThe Times reports. Either outcome would effectively reset the abortion law and legal precedent in America and allow other Republican states to impose more restrictions on abortion.
Many legal experts and advocates for reproductive health predict that the Court will uphold the Mississippi ban. CNNReports that result in an overturning or explicit of Roe. This outcome is possible, even if it is unlikely, given the Court’s current composition, where six conservative judges hold a supermajority. SELF reported that the Court declined to block a Texas law banning abortions after six week, despite the conservative majority’s ideologies and past rulings on abortion.
As a Supreme Court correspondent and constitutional law expert Vox Ian Millhiser wrote, “There is every reason to believe that Dobbs ends disastrously for abortion rights.” We may have to wait a while for a ruling, however, which CNNReports may not be transmitted until summer 2022.