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Supreme Court to hear Mississippi abortion case challenging Roe v. Wade


A worker clears front steps as morning rises over the U.S. Supreme Court building, still closed to the public during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Washington, April 26, 2021.

Jonathan Ernst | Reuters

The Supreme Court on Monday agreed to hear arguments in a major abortion case from Mississippi that could roll back limits on abortion laws cemented by the landmark reproductive rights case Roe v. Wade.

The case will be the first major abortion dispute to test all three of former President Donald Trump’s appointees to the top court, including its newest member, Justice Amy Coney Barrett.

The top court announced that it will hear the dispute, Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, 19-1392, in an order. The court will hear the case in its term beginning in October and a decision is likely to come by June of 2022.

The case concerns a Mississippi abortion law passed in 2018 that bars abortions after 15 weeks with limited exceptions. The law was blocked by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Under existing Supreme Court precedent, states may not ban abortions that occur prior to fetal viability, generally around 22 weeks or later.

In the case, Mississippi is asking the justices to reexamine that viability standard. The state argued that the viability rule prevented states from adequately defending maternal health and potential life.

“It is well past time for the Court to revisit the wisdom of the viability bright-line rule,” Mississippi attorney general Lynn Fitch wrote in a brief filed with the justices.

An abortion clinic in Mississippi, Jackson Women’s Health Organization, urged the top court not to take the case.

“In an unbroken line of decisions over the last fifty years, this Court has held that the Constitution guarantees each person the right to decide whether to continue a pre-viability pregnancy,” Hillary Schneller, an attorney representing the clinic, wrote in a filing.

Schneller said that Mississippi’s argument was “based on a misunderstanding of the core principle of” previous Supreme Court decisions.

She wrote, “while the State has interests throughout pregnancy, ‘[b]efore viability, the State’s interests are not strong enough to support a prohibition of abortion.'”

Conservatives have been passing a flurry of bills challenging Roe, decided in 1973, with the hope of getting the court to reconsider its past precedents. With Trump’s appointees, the nation’s highest court now has a 6-3 conservative majority.

The fight over abortion animated the confirmation hearings for Barrett, a devout Catholic who was the favorite among anti-abortion groups to replace Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg following the liberal justice’s death.

While Barrett has not made her precise legal views on abortion clear from the bench, Democrats have seized on her past comments referring to aborted fetuses as “unborn victims” among other potential harbingers of her views.

The other two Trump appointees on the bench, Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, voted last June to allow a restrictive Louisiana abortion law to go into effect in the first significant reproductive rights case to come before them. Chief Justice John Roberts, a conservative, sided with the liberals in the 5-4 decision blocking the law.

This is breaking news. Please check back for updates.

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