- The Supreme Court term began Monday. The biggest case in the case concerns abortion.
- The dispute involves a Mississippi law that bans almost all abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy.
- The court will hear arguments on the case on December 1.
The Supreme Court started its new term on Monday when both abortion rights activists and anti-abortion activists protested in front of the building. While the nine judges will hear a number of high-profile cases in the coming months, a challenge to abortion rights is largely expected to get the national spotlight.
The case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, relates to a Mississippi law prohibiting abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, except in cases of medical emergencies or severe birth defects.
Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant signed the bill in March 2018 as part of a wave of Republican-led states seeking to pass abortion restrictions nationwide. Immediately thereafter, Mississippi’s only abortion clinic, the Jackson Women’s Health Organization, sued the state.
That year, a federal district judge overturned the law, saying it “unequivocally” violates the constitutional right to an abortion, which was established nearly 50 years ago in the Supreme Court’s decision. Roe v. Wade. The landmark judgment of 1973 legalized abortion until about 24 weeks of gestation, the time when a fetus can survive outside the womb, otherwise known as viability.
Mississippi appealed, but in 2019, a federal appeals court upheld the lower court and also blocked the 15-week ban.
“In an unbroken line from Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court’s abortion cases have established (and affirmed and confirmed) a woman’s right to choose an abortion before viability,” Judge Patrick Higginbotham wrote in the majority opinion.
The state took up its challenge to the Supreme Court, which in May agreed to take up the case and review the central question of whether state laws banning abortion before viability are unconstitutional.
The judges will hear arguments about the legal battle on December 1st. A final decision will come next summer.
It is almost 30 years ago that a major abortion dispute has come before the High Court. The last case was Planned Parenthood v. Casey, ruled in 1992, when the Supreme Court declared that states cannot impose an “unnecessary burden” on abortion rights.
Lawyers for abortion rights, the Biden administration and hundreds of national and state Democratic lawmakers have called on the Supreme Court to uphold abortion rights for fear the court’s current 6-3 Conservative majority will throw them out.
On the other hand, anti-abortion activists and Republican leaders have called for the right to overthrow Roe, as part of their many years of efforts to limit access to abortion nationwide.
Access to abortion is already restricted in Texas due to a law banning the procedure after six weeks of pregnancy, which went into effect last month. The law has so far resisted legal challenges due to its unique enforcement mechanism that calls for private citizens rather than government officials to enforce the ban.
The Supreme Court, in a narrow 5-4 vote last month, rejected a request from abortion providers to block the Texas law, arguing that it did not want to weigh the case as it is still pending in the lower courts. Judges Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, along with former President Donald Trump’s three appointments – Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett – voted in the majority.
Chief Justice John Roberts, a Conservative considered a crucial swing vote, disagreed, as did the court’s three Liberal members, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.
“The statutory arrangement before the Court is not only unusual, but unprecedented,” Roberts wrote in a dissenting opinion on September 2.
Abortion rights groups and national leaders have since slammed the Supreme Court’s decision. President Joe Biden said it triggered “unconstitutional chaos,” and his Justice Department has sued Texas in an attempt to block the legally difficult law.
Critics have also pointed to the Texas law as a sign that the court’s expanded conservative majority is likely to overthrow Roe v. Wade in the coming Dobbs sag. Yet some legal experts say that despite the ideological differences of judges, it is still unpredictable how they choose to make a decision given many years of Supreme Court precedent.