Washington – The future of abortion rights faced its most impact test in almost 30 years on Wednesday, when the Supreme Court met to hear a high-stakes showdown aimed at the precedent of the early five decades, where conservative judges seemed to be inclined to let a Mississippi law stand at. the crux of the matter and pave the way for states to impose stricter limits on abortion.
The Supreme Court heard nearly two hours of arguments in the legal battle involvedwhich prohibits abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, which is in direct conflict with its previous abortion decisions. In the 1973 landmark decision in Roe v. Wade and affirmed in 1992’s Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the Supreme Court stated that states cannot prohibit abortion before fetal viability – the point at which the fetus can survive outside the womb, which is now considered be be between 22 and 24 weeks of pregnancy.
Judge Brett Kavanaugh, appointed to the high court by former President Donald Trump, suggested on several occasions that abortion policy should best be left to the legislature and the people.
“Why should this court be the arbitrator instead of Congress, the legislators of the state, the supreme courts of the state, that the people be able to resolve this?” he asked.
The Constitution, Kavanaugh said, “is neither pro-life nor pro-choice on the issue of abortion,” and he clarified that if the Supreme Court were to take the Mississippi side, states could choose whether to restrict access to abortion and to what extent.
Both Supreme Court Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito questioned the viability line, the standard set by the Supreme Court in 1973.
“Why would 15 weeks be an inappropriate line?” Roberts asked Julie Rikelman, who argued on behalf of abortion providers to challenge the Mississippi law. “Viability I think has nothing to do with elections. But if it’s really about elections, why is 15 weeks not enough time?”
The top judge also expressed concern that when comparing abortion laws in the United States, the nation stands with China and North Korea in using the viability standard, a point Rikelman rejected.
The case before the courts is the most consistent abortion dispute that has come before the court in a generation, and advocates of abortion rights warn that a decision upholding the 2018 law will allow states to ban the procedure completely.
The Mississippi, meanwhile, has used the case, known as the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, as a means of asking judges to overthrow Roe and Casey. Scott Stewart, Mississippi’s attorney general, said those decisions “haunt our country” and have “poisoned the law.”
Kavanaugh listed several of the Supreme Court’s major rulings, including Brown v. Board of Education, which found unconstitutional racial segregation in schools, and Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized same-sex marriage, to demonstrate that the court has set a precedent when asked about doing in the Mississippi controversy.
“If we think the previous precedents are seriously wrong, if that’s why the story of this court’s case law in these cases then does not tell us that the correct answer is in fact a return to the position of neutrality and not sticking to these precedents on the same way all the other cases did not? ” Kavanaugh said, noting that if the Supreme Court had set a precedent in these cases, “the country would be a very different place.”
While members of the Conservative wing of the bench signaled a willingness to allow states to restrict abortion rights, the three Liberal judges warned that such a shift – which took place after the Conservative majority’s majority grew to 6-3 – would have negative consequences for the public. perception of the court.
Judge Sonia Sotomayor noted that in the years since Roe and Casey, 15 judges have confirmed the viability line, while four – two of whom are currently in court – disagree with the standard.
“Will this institution survive the stench that this creates in the public perception that the Constitution and its reading are merely political actions?” she asked. “I do not see how that is possible.”
Judge Elena Kagan reiterated Sotomayor’s concerns, saying one of the main objectives of complying with the precedent is to “prevent people from believing that this court is a political institution that will go back and forth depending on which part of the public shouts the loudest. and prevents people from thinking that the court will go back and forth depending on changes in the membership of the court. “
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters that President Biden believes the Mississippi law “obviously violates” the constitutional right to abortion and is obligated to cooperate with Congress to enshrine that right in law.
“This case poses a serious threat to women’s fundamental rights, to all our rights as protected under Roe v. Wade for nearly half a century,” she said.
MississippiGestational Age Act, in 2018. But a federal district court quickly blocked law enforcement after the Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the state’s only abortion clinic, challenged its constitution. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the district court’s decision, and Mississippi officials to step into last year.
The Jackson Women’s Health Organization serves about 3,000 women annually and provides abortion services up to 16 weeks of pregnancy. About 100 patients a year get an abortion after 15 weeks, lawyers for the clinic told the district court in a letter from September.
The Supreme Court’s decision to deal with the Mississippi abortion case marked a watershed in decades of push by anti-abortion advocates to overthrow Roe. These efforts were supported by Mr. Trump’s transformation of the high court through his appointments of judges Neil Gorsuch, Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett, who extended his conservative majority to 6-3. Mr. Trump“pro-life justices” that would override the Supreme Court’s abortion decisions.
“We may well be on the verge of an era when the Supreme Court sends Roe v. Wade to the ash heap of history, where it belongs,” former Vice President Mike Pence said at an event Tuesday, where he also called on the district court. to “create history.”
But Attorney General Elizabeth Prelogar, who on behalf of the Department of Justice argued that providers were challenging the law, told the Supreme Court that if it joined the Mississippi in the case, it would represent an “unprecedented contraction of individual rights.”
“The court has never revoked a right that is so fundamental to so many Americans and so central to their ability to participate fully and equally in society,” she said.
Republican-led states have already laid the groundwork for a Supreme Court ruling that dismantles its landmark abortion decisions. A dozen states, including the Mississippi, have already enacted so-called “trigger bans,” where most abortions would be banned if and when the Supreme Court overthrows Roe. The Guttmacher Institute, a research organization for abortion rights, estimates that if Roe is overthrown or weakened, at least 21 states are ready to try to ban abortion.
A decision by the Supreme Court is expected in the summer of 2022.
Adam Brewster contributed to this report.