Supreme Court indicates willingness to support abortion limits in Mississippi case

WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court seemed ready Wednesday to support the Mississippi law This would ban almost all abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, which would be a dramatic break from 50 years of judgment.

The judges heard 90 minutes of oral arguments in the biggest direct challenge to Roe v. Wade in nearly three decades.

A majority of the court’s conservative justices suggested they were willing to abandon the court’s previous standard that prohibits states from banning abortion before a fetus is viable, which is generally considered to be around 24 weeks of gestation.

It was not clear after Wednesday’s argument whether the court would take the additional step of explicitly overturning abortion precedents, including in Roe v. Wade.

The three most liberal judges warned against it The court will look like a political body If it abolished the abortion provisions that the country relied on for decades.

Judge Stephen Breyer warned that it was “particularly important to show that what we do to get a case dismissed is based on principle, not social pressure.”

Judge Sonia Sotomayor asked: “Will this institution escape the stench this creates in the public perception that the Constitution and its reading are mere political acts? I don’t see how that is possible.”

Judge Elena Kagan said the court should not act in such a way that people believe it is a “political institution that will go back and forth, depending on which part of the public shouts the loudest or changes in court membership.”

At least four of the court’s conservatives, Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, suggested that they were willing to overturn Roe on the grounds that a wrong decision had been made, despite the public’s dependence on it for decades.

“Can’t a decision be overturned because it was a mistake when it was made?” Alito asked.

Kavanaugh listed several previous decisions, regarding segregation and same-sex marriage, that resulted from the court’s overturning of longstanding precedents.

Chief Justice John Roberts has suggested he would be willing to support the Mississippi law without repealing Roe, but it was not clear if any other members of the court would be with him.

The standoff, which centers on whether the Constitution provides for the right to request an abortion, focuses on the 2018 Mississippi law, Banned by lower federal courtsThis would prohibit most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, and would only allow them in cases of medical emergencies or severe fetal malformations.

Those seeking to ban abortion entirely or radically have been hoping for a victory by the conservative-controlled Supreme Court decades after they suffered a defeat in Roe v. Wade.

Supporters argue that the law aims to regulate “inhumane actions” and that the fetus is able to detect and respond to pain at that point in pregnancy. Opponents maintain that the Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that the constitution protects abortion.

“The Constitution puts trust in the people, on hard issues after hard issues, people make this country where abortion is a tough issue,” Mississippi Attorney General Scott Stewart said during oral arguments. “It requires the best of all of us, not judgment by a few of us.”

Sotomayor lobbied Stewart about the broad ramifications of the case.

I also questioned him about the science behind a fetus’s viability before 23 to 24 weeks, to which Stewart replied, “The fundamental problem is in viability, it’s not something that depends so much on science, it’s viability – not tied to anything in constitution, in history or tradition – it’s a line essential legislation.

Sotomayor returned to say: “There is nothing in the Constitution, the Supreme Court is the last word on what the Constitution means.”

Mississippi law targets the landmark 1973 court ruling in Roe v. Wade, as well as a 1992 decision in Planned Parenthood v. Casey. The court held that states can place some restrictions on abortion as long as it does not represent an “undue burden” and that the procedure cannot be prohibited until the fetus is still alive.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Estimated last month That of the 47 states that reported abortion data for 2018 and 2019, the number of procedures increased by 1.7 percent. The CDC report estimated that 95 percent of abortions are done by 15 weeks.

“The Mississippi ban on abortion, two months before it becomes applicable, is wholly unconstitutional given decades of precedent,” Julie Rickleman, senior director of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said during oral arguments. “Two generations have now relied on this right, and 1 in 4 women makes the decision to terminate a pregnancy.”

Judge Amy Connie Barrett lobbied Rickelman about safe harbor laws, which allow mothers of newborns in crisis to safely abandon their babies in designated locations. Barrett argued that the concerns raised in Rowe about parenting challenges were removed by these safe harbor laws because the mother could now simply abandon her child. Texas’ first safe harbor law was passed in 1999.

Rickelman responded to Barrett by saying, “We don’t just focus on the burdens of parenting.” Pregnancy is accompanied by health risks, she said, and “actually has an impact on their whole lives and their ability to care for other children, other family members, their ability to work.”

Anti-abortion protesters and abortion rights advocates argue at the Abortion Freedom Fighters Rally, in Jackson, Miss., on October 2, 2021.Rory Doyle/Reuters File

The most recent NBC News poll, released in August, found that 54 percent of Americans believe that abortion should be legal in all or most cases. Most of the country appears to be in the middle, with the survey finding that 23 percent of respondents said abortion should be legal “most of the time” and 34 percent said it should be illegal “with exceptions.”

Abortion rights advocates were seen outside the Supreme Court on Wednesday dressed in bright blue, with signs reading “Free Abortion” and “Abortion Is Necessary,” chanting in support of abortion access.

The rally also attracted Democratic lawmakers such as Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington, Barbara Lee of California and Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut.

“We are here again to protect abortion and we will not allow anti-choice lawmakers to take away our right,” he told me. “This is about being free to make your own decision about your own body. The right to an abortion is not real if only some people cannot access it.”

Lauren Marlowe, 22, an abortion rights opponent who demonstrated in front of the Supreme Court on Wednesday, said she was “extremely excited” about the prospect of Roe v. Wade’s case being reversed or cut.

“I want to see abortion abolished, and one of the first steps is to bring the rights back to the states to make those decisions themselves,” she said.

The Supreme Court, with a 6-3, conservative majority, has yet to rule Texas Law Known as SB 8, which prohibits abortion after about the sixth week of pregnancy. Judges must decide whether to proceed with two court cases that challenge the unique structure of the law, which delegates enforcement to private lawsuits.

The question of whether the Constitution provides for the right to request an abortion is not up in court in Texas appeals, but it is right up there in the Mississippi case.

Correction (December 1, 2021, 2:10 PM ET): An earlier version of this article misspelled the first name of a Supreme Court justice. It’s Neil Gorsuch, not Neil.

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