Supreme Court Will Hear Mississippi Case That Challenges Roe V. Wade

by Erica Gerald Mason
Erin Schaff-Pool/Getty

The court agreed to hear a case that could substantially change nearly 50 years of rulings on abortion rights

With three judges selected by former President Donald Trump, the United States Supreme Court has a 6-3 conservative majority. Now, the court is taking on a case about whether states can prohibit abortions before a fetus can survive outside the uterus, AP reports. The suit is not a direct challenge to a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion that the court first acknowledged in the 1973 Roe v. Wade determination and upheld 19 years later.

However, some women’s health advocates are concerned that the court, by reviewing what some see as weakening protections for women who pursue abortions, the justices could remove some of the underpinnings of a woman’s right to choose and lay the foundation for even more limitations on abortion, namely state restrictions on abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected, as early as six weeks.

The suit involves a Mississippi law that would ban abortions after the 15th week of pregnancy. The state’s ban had been blocked by lower courts as conflicting with Supreme Court precedent that protects a woman’s right to acquire an abortion.

“States may regulate abortion procedures prior to viability so long as they do not impose an undue burden on the woman’s right, but they may not ban abortions. The law at issue is a ban,” Judge Patrick Higginbotham of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals wrote in holding a lower-court ruling that reversed the law.

The Mississippi legislation was adopted in 2018 but was stopped after a federal court challenge. The state’s only abortion clinic remains open. The operator of the clinic has stated the facility does abortions up to 16 weeks.

Mississippi and other states passed laws that ban most abortions when fetal heartbeats are detected. This case is different from that. Since 2019, early-term abortion bans have been overturned in a dozen states, including Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Montana, Missouri, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah, and Tennessee, NPR reports.

“Alarm bells are ringing loudly about the threat to reproductive rights. The Supreme Court just agreed to review an abortion ban that unquestionably violates nearly 50 years of Supreme Court precedent and is a test case to overturn Roe v. Wade,” Nancy Northup, president, and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement.

Exceptions to Mississippi’s 15-week ban would be permitted only in cases of emergency or severe abnormality of the fetus. Doctors found in violation of the ban would face mandatory suspension or revocation of their medical license.

The case will most likely be heard and argued later this year, with a ruling expected in the spring of 2022 — during the campaign for midterm elections.