Abortion Rights at Stake in Historic Supreme Court Arguments

December 1, 2021by Mark Sherman, Associated Press
Abortion Rights at Stake in Historic Supreme Court Arguments
People demonstrate in front of the U.S. Supreme Court Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021, in Washington, as the court hears arguments in a case from Mississippi, where a 2018 law would ban abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, well before viability. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Abortion rights are on the line at the Supreme Court in historic arguments over the landmark ruling nearly 50 years ago that declared a nationwide right to end a pregnancy.

The justices on Wednesday will weigh whether to uphold a Mississippi law that bans abortion after 15 weeks and overrule the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.

Mississippi also is asking the court to overrule the 1992 ruling in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which reaffirmed Roe. The arguments can be heard on the court’s website, starting at 10 a.m. EST.

Supporters of both sides in the abortion debate filled the sidewalk and street in front of the court, their dueling rallies audible even from inside the building. Some carried signs reading “Her Body Her Choice” and “God Hates the Shedding of Innocent Blood.” The court stepped up security measures, including closing off some streets around the building.


The case comes to a court with a 6-3 conservative majority that has been transformed by three appointees of President Donald Trump, who had pledged to appoint justices he said would oppose abortion rights.

The court had never agreed to hear a case over an abortion ban so early in pregnancy until all three Trump appointees — Justices Neil GorsuchBrett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett — were on board.

A month ago, the justices also heard arguments over a uniquely designed Texas law that has succeeded in getting around the Roe and Casey decisions and banning abortions in the nation’s second-largest state after about six weeks of pregnancy. The dispute over the Texas law revolves around whether the law can be challenged in federal court, rather than the right to an abortion.

Despite its unusually quick consideration of the issue, the court has yet to rule on the Texas law, and the justices have refused to put the law on hold while the matter is under legal review.

The Mississippi case poses questions central to the abortion right. Some of the debate Wednesday is likely to be over whether the court should abandon its long-held rule that states cannot ban abortion before the point of viability, at roughly 24 weeks.

More than 90% of abortions are performed in the first 13 weeks of pregnancy, well before viability, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Mississippi argues that viability is an arbitrary standard that doesn’t take sufficient account of the state’s interest in regulating abortion. It also contends that scientific advances have allowed some babies who were born earlier than 24 weeks to survive, though it does not argue that the line is anywhere near 15 weeks.

Only about 100 patients per year get abortions after 15 weeks at the Jackson Women’s Health Organization, Mississippi’s lone abortion clinic. The facility does not provide abortions after 16 weeks.


But the clinic argues that the court doesn’t normally assess constitutional rights based on how few people are affected, and that the justices shouldn’t do so in this case.

Joined by the Biden administration, the clinic also says that since Roe, the Supreme Court has consistently held that the “Constitution guarantees ‘the right of the woman to choose to have an abortion before viability.’”

Erasing viability as the line between when abortions may and may not be banned would effectively overrule Roe and Casey, even if the justices do not explicitly do that, the clinic says.

Justice Clarence Thomas is the only member of the court who has openly called for Roe and Casey to be overruled. One question is how many of his conservative colleagues are willing to join him.

Among the questions justices ask when they consider jettisoning a previous ruling is not just whether it is wrong, but egregiously so.

That’s a formulation Kavanaugh has used in a recent opinion, and Mississippi and many of its allies have devoted considerable space in their court filings to argue that Roe and Casey fit the description of being egregiously wrong.

“The conclusion that abortion is a constitutional right has no basis in text, structure, history, or tradition,” Mississippi says.

The clinic responds by arguing that the very same arguments were considered and rejected by the court nearly 30 years ago in Casey. Only the membership of the court has changed since then, the clinic and its allies argue.

In its earlier rulings, the court has rooted the right to abortion in the section of the 14th Amendment that says states cannot “deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”

Same-sex marriage and other rights, based on the same provision but also not explicitly mentioned in the Constitution, could be threatened if Roe and Casey fall, the administration argues. Mississippi and its supporters dispute that those other decisions would be at risk.

Abortion arguments normally would find people camped out in front of the court for days in the hope of snagging some of the few seats available to the public. But with the courthouse closed because of COVID-19, there will be only a sparse audience of reporters, justices’ law clerks and a handful of lawyers inside the courtroom.


A decision is expected by late June, a little more than four months before next year’s congressional elections, and could become a campaign season rallying cry.

Associated Press writer Parker Purifoy contributed from Washington.

A+
a-

In The News

Health

Voting

Supreme Court

January 19, 2023
by Dan McCue
Capitol Police Announce Road Closures Ahead of ‘March for Life’

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Capitol Police have announced Capitol Complex road closures to accommodate the annual “March for Life” on... Read More

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Capitol Police have announced Capitol Complex road closures to accommodate the annual “March for Life” on the National Mall. Thousands of anti-abortion activists and marchers are expected to converge on the National Mall Thursday and Friday for a series of events. This... Read More

January 19, 2023
by Dan McCue
Supreme Court Investigation Hasn’t Turned Up Abortion Ruling Leaker

WASHINGTON — A monthslong internal investigation has failed to identify the person who leaked a draft copy of the Dobbs... Read More

WASHINGTON — A monthslong internal investigation has failed to identify the person who leaked a draft copy of the Dobbs ruling to Politico last year, the Supreme Court announced Thursday. Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization is the landmark decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in... Read More

Supreme Court Lets New York Enforce Gun Law During Lawsuit

WASHINGTON (AP) — New York can for now continue to enforce a sweeping new law that bans guns from “sensitive places” such... Read More

WASHINGTON (AP) — New York can for now continue to enforce a sweeping new law that bans guns from “sensitive places” such as schools, playgrounds and Times Square, the Supreme Court said Wednesday, allowing the law to be in force while a lawsuit over it plays out. The justices turned... Read More

Supreme Court Asked to Bar Punishment for Acquitted Conduct

WASHINGTON (AP) — A jury convicted Dayonta McClinton of robbing a CVS pharmacy but acquitted him of murder. A judge... Read More

WASHINGTON (AP) — A jury convicted Dayonta McClinton of robbing a CVS pharmacy but acquitted him of murder. A judge gave McClinton an extra 13 years in prison for the killing anyway. In courtrooms across America, defendants get additional prison time for crimes that juries found... Read More

December 28, 2022
by Dan McCue
Justices Hold Title 42 to Remain in Place Pending Expedited Review

WASHINGTON —  A divided Supreme Court on Tuesday held that Title 42, the pandemic-era rule that restricted migration at the... Read More

WASHINGTON —  A divided Supreme Court on Tuesday held that Title 42, the pandemic-era rule that restricted migration at the southwestern border on public health grounds, will remain in place pending an expedited ruling and future ruling by the justices. In a brief, unsigned order, a... Read More

December 8, 2022
by Tom Ramstack
Minister Says He Successfully Lobbied Supreme Court Justices for His Causes

WASHINGTON — An evangelical minister who on Thursday claimed to be a whistleblower on conflicts of interest at the Supreme... Read More

WASHINGTON — An evangelical minister who on Thursday claimed to be a whistleblower on conflicts of interest at the Supreme Court told Congress that for years he recruited “stealth missionaries” to advocate conservative causes to the justices. The wealthy couples Robert L. Schenck said he used... Read More

News From The Well
scroll top