By Jessica Corbett | 17 May 2021
Reproductive rights advocates were outraged but unsurprised Monday when the U.S. Supreme Court announced that it will hear a challenge to Mississippi’s ban on nearly all abortions after 15 weeks of gestation—a case that, as one writer put it, “may very well be the death knell for Roe v. Wade,” thanks to the majority of right-wing justices.
The decision (pdf) comes amid an unprecedented wave of state-level attacks on reproductive rights. State restrictions passed by mostly GOP legislators in recent years have been seen as clear attempts to enable the court to reverse Roe, which in 1973 affirmed the constitutional right to abortion.
“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,” said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR), in a statement Monday.
“The consequences of a Roe reversal would be devastating,” she warned. “Over 20 states would prohibit abortion outright. Eleven states—including Mississippi—currently have trigger bans on the books which would instantaneously ban abortion if Roe is overturned. Already, abortion is nearly impossible to access for people in states like Mississippi, where lawmakers have been chipping away at the right to abortion for decades. We will keep fighting to make sure that people do not lose this fundamental right to control their own bodies and futures.”
The Supreme Court announced it will review Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban — a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade that puts 25 million people at risk of losing abortion access. https://t.co/w1VRRsXQHA
— Planned Parenthood Action (@PPact) May 17, 2021
CRR, the Mississippi Center for Justice, and the firm Paul Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison challenged the ban on behalf of the state’s only remaining abortion clinic. After the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the ban in December 2019, the state asked the high court to take the case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.
“As the only abortion clinic left in Mississippi, we see patients who have spent weeks saving up the money to travel here and pay for child care, for a place to stay, and everything else involved,” explained Diane Derzis, owner of Jackson Women’s Health Organization.
“If this ban were to take effect, we would be forced to turn many of those patients away, and they would lose their right to abortion in this state,” Derzis continued. “Mississippi politicians have created countless barriers for people trying to access abortion, intentionally pushing them later into pregnancy. It’s all part of their strategy to eliminate abortion access entirely.”
There is no split in the lower courts over a state’s ability to ban abortion at 15 weeks (or earlier). Even conservative judges recognize that Roe and Casey prohibit total bans on abortion before viability. It seems likely that the Supreme Court took this case to change the rule.
— Mark Joseph Stern (@mjs_DC) May 17, 2021
“This is the moment anti-abortion politicians have been waiting for since Roe v. Wade was decided,” said Jennifer Dalven, director of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project. “If the Supreme Court rules in favor of Mississippi, it will take the decision about whether to have an abortion away from individuals and hand it over to politicians. The American people overwhelmingly support the right of individuals to make this decision for themselves and will not tolerate having this right taken away.”
Justices will hear arguments for Dobbs in the next term, which starts in October, and are expected to issue a ruling next year. Critics of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and former President Donald Trump’s efforts to remake the federal judiciary, including the nation’s highest court, pointed out Monday that reversing Roe was always a top goal.
After Senate Republicans, who then controlled the chamber, spent several months of 2016 fighting against former President Barack Obama’s nominee—current Attorney General Merrick Garland—Trump appointed three justices to the court during his term: Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett.
“Let’s be explicit: Anti-abortion extremists made it clear that this was the goal all along. It’s why they couldn’t wait to rush Amy Coney Barrett onto the Supreme Court before the November election,” the Planned Parenthood Advocacy Fund of Massachusetts tweeted Monday.
Whether the Court rules in favor of MS or not, they’re normalizing narrowing the aperture, placing more people who need abortion further from service. They have always understood, sometimes better than people who support Roe, that a right without access is not a right at all.
— Ilyse Hogue (@ilyseh) May 17, 2021
NARAL Pro-Choice America chief campaigns and advocacy officer Christian LoBue called the court’s decision “an ominous sign and an alarming reminder that the threat to the legal right to abortion is imminent and real,” warning that the impact of a Roe reversal “would be devastating, especially on those who already face the greatest barriers to care, including people of color, trans and nonbinary people, those with lower incomes, and those in rural areas.”
“Although Donald Trump is no longer in the White House, he leaves behind a dark legacy of anti-choice, anti-freedom judges hostile to our fundamental rights. The anti-choice movement is laser-focused on banning abortion and determined to capitalize on the anti-choice supermajority Trump solidified on the court,” she said. “With the future of reproductive freedom on the line like never before, NARAL and our 2.5 million members will be fighting every step of the way to ensure that Roe and the legal right to abortion remain intact.”
Rights advocates emphasized their commitment to not only defending Roe but treating it as a floor rather than a ceiling, reiterating their dedication to abortion justice.
Roe has always been the floor, not the ceiling, and its promise has eluded millions for YEARS. Abortion opponents have placed created so many barriers that legal abortion is already a pipe dream for many. That’s why it isn’t just about Roe, but about ACCESS.
— Lauren Rankin (@laurenarankin) May 17, 2021
And we won’t stop until all of us can make our own decisions about abortion, whoever we are and however much we make. https://t.co/DoWKk8xhTz
— All* Above All (@AllAboveAll) May 17, 2021
Progressive lawmakers called on Congress to take action to not only safeguard abortion rights but also reform the Supreme Court.
This puts women’s health in grave danger.
Roe v. Wade has already been decided. Let’s make it a codified law. https://t.co/RsfDUKaJfq
— Marie Newman (@Marie4Congress) May 17, 2021
The Supreme Court needs to strike this law down — abortion is health care and a constitutional, human right.
But we also need to expand and reform the Supreme Court. Republican obstruction and court-packing has forced our rights to the brink with every new SCOTUS decision. https://t.co/Pz5EbEHNW8
— Jamaal Bowman (@JamaalBowmanNY) May 17, 2021
The progressive advocacy group Demand Justice launched in 2018 in response to GOP efforts to appoint right-wing judges. Following news of the Dobbs decision, the organization’s executive director, Brian Fallon, took aim at President Joe Biden’s recent creation of a commission to consider expanding the court and other reforms.
“In opting to hear major cases next term on guns and now abortion, the Roberts Court conservatives have issued their verdict on President Biden’s commission: They consider it a complete nothingburger,” said Fallon. “We do not have 180 days to squander on a faculty-lounge discussion to tell us what we already know: The Supreme Court is a looming threat to our democracy and in urgent need of reform.”
Noting the GOP’s opportunity for obstruction due to an evenly split Senate, Battle Born Collective senior adviser Tré Easton said Monday that “to protect this right and others, Senate Democrats cannot leave the filibuster in place and hope for the best from this 6-3 conservative Supreme Court. They must end the filibuster and codify these critical rights legislatively. This is the only path.”
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