Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban, which then-Gov. Phil Bryant, a Republican, signed into law in 2018, made exceptions only for medical emergencies or cases in which there is a “severe fetal abnormality,” but not for instances of rape or incest. A federal judge in Mississippi struck down the law in November 2018, and the 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that ruling in December 2019.
After being rescheduled for the court’s consideration in conference over a dozen times, the case could present a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade, the 1973 landmark Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion nationwide prior to viability, which can occur at around 24 weeks of pregnancy.
It will be a blockbuster case, with the justices revisiting an issue that still deeply divides the country some 50 years after the landmark opinion, and with a ruling potentially coming in the middle of the 2022 midterm elections.
The case will thrust the court — with a 6-3 conservative majority — directly into the culture wars at a time when states across the country are attempting to pass more restrictive measures.
South Carolina, Oklahoma and Idaho have codified bans this year on abortion at the onset of a fetal heartbeat. Also this year, Arkansas and Oklahoma have enacted near-total abortion bans, and Montana banned the procedure at 20 weeks. None of the bills have gone into effect, either because of court actions or later effective dates.
“This will be, by far, the most important abortion case the Court will have heard since the Casey decision in 1992,” said Steve Vladeck, CNN Supreme Court analyst and professor at the University of Texas School of Law. “If states are allowed to effectively ban abortions after the 15th week of pregnancy, as the Mississippi law in this case does, then pregnant women would have a far shorter window in which they could lawfully obtain an abortion than what Roe and Casey currently require.”
The court’s move highlights the impact of Justice Amy Coney Barrett, who likely voted with the majority to take up the case and will spread concerns from supporters of abortion rights who fear she is poised to move the court to the right on the issue.
“Alarm bells are ringing loudly about the threat to reproductive rights,” Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, the group challenging Mississippi over the law in court, said in a statement Monday. “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.”
When asked to respond to the news, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said she didn’t have a comment specific to the Supreme Court taking the case but added that “over the last four years, critical rights — like the right to health care, the right to choose — have been under withering and extreme attack, including through draconian state laws.”
“The President and the Vice President are devoted to ensuring that every American has access to health care, including reproductive health care, regardless of their income, zip code, race, health insurance status or immigration status,” Psaki said, adding that Biden is “committed to codifying Roe” in this case and any others.
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