Mississippi Abortion Law Heard by the Supreme Court


(Image courtesy of CNBC)

Pro-life activists protest outside the Supreme Court on Wednesday.

Avery Ngo and Isabella Do

Yesterday, the Supreme Court heard arguments about the Mississippi abortion case, appearing to uphold the state law that bans abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. The decision of the conservative-leaning justices could result in the repeal of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 case that legalized abortion nationwide. 

After hearing 90 minutes of oral arguments, the majority of the court’s conservative justices seems to signal support for upholding the law. This decision has the potential to directly conflict with past decisions on abortion. Not only will it override Roe v. Wade, it will also undermine Planned Parenthood v. Casey where the court ruled states cannot ban abortion before fetal viability, which is between 22 and 24 weeks of pregnancy. 

“Why should this court be the arbitrator rather than Congress, the state, legislatures, state supreme courts, the people being able to resolve this?” asks Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who was appointed as a justice by President Donald Trump. He has insisted that abortion policy be left as a state decision. 

“The Constitution is neither pro-life nor pro-choice on the question of abortion,” he says. 

While Kavanaugh seems to remain staunch in his opinion to repeal the previous cases, Chief Justice John Roberts seems to favor a middle ground where the court could uphold the Mississippi law without stating that the Constitution could not protect the right to an abortion. He questions whether or not the cutoff could be earlier before “viability” as affirmed in Roe and Casey. 

“If you think that the issue is one of choice, that women should have a choice to terminate their pregnancy, that supposes that there is a point at which they’ve had the fair choice,” Roberts states. “Because viability, it seems to me, doesn’t have anything to do with choice. But, if it really is an issue about choice, why is 15 weeks not enough time?”

However, Roberts did not explain why allowing states to ban abortion earlier would be more moral than allowing it to remain at the time of fetal viability. 

Lawyer Julie Rikelman of the Center for Reproductive Rights points out that no matter the intentions of Roberts’ more neutral approach, if the court ruled in favor of the constitutionality of the Mississippi law, states would “rush to ban abortion at virtually any point in pregnancy.” The legal grounds that once protected these bans would fall because Roe and Casey would be undermined as a result of this decision. 

And yet, Roberts showed little concern for this argument, saying, “I’d like to focus on the 15-week ban.” 

The consequences of the decision of this case upholding the Mississippi law would be astronomical. This final ruling, expected to be made in June of next year, could prevent tens of millions of women from accessing abortion services.