WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court is set to hear debates Wednesday over a Mississippi law that bans most abortions after 15 weeks, much earlier than the standard set in the court’s landmark Roe v. Wade decision.
Passed in 2018, Mississippi’s Gestational Age Act allows for abortions after 15 weeks only in medical emergencies or for severe fetal abnormalities. A doctor subsequently sued, saying that the law imposed an undue burden on the right to abortion, The Washington Post reported.
The case has the potential to reverse precedent set in 1973, when justices determined in Roe that women have a constitutional right to abortion before a fetus can survive outside the womb, generally between 22 and 26 weeks, according to NPR and the Post.
It is the first major challenge to abortion rights since 1992′s Planned Parenthood v. Casey, NPR reported. The court is now dominated by a 6-3 conservative majority, prompting some Republicans to express confidence over the success of Mississippi’s challenge to Roe, The Associated Press reported.
“We are asking the court in no uncertain terms to make history,” former Vice President Mike Pence said Tuesday in a speech in Washington, according to the AP. “We are asking the Supreme Court of the United States to overturn Roe v. Wade and restore the sanctity of life at the center of American law.”
Mississippi argues that the state’s law protects maternal health, stating that abortions carry higher risk the later they are performed in a pregnancy. However, Gerald Harmon, president of the American Medical Association, told NPR, “We know that the risk of death during or after childbirth is substantially more than the risk of death … from an abortion.”
Lawyer Julie Rickelman of the Center for Reproductive Rights told NPR that the 14th Amendment protects “life after birth” and has been used in the past to protect marriage, contraception and intimate relationships despite the fact that those words are not explicitly used in the Constitution.
“What’s critical to remember is that the court has long said that a woman’s liberty interests are unique when it comes to pregnancy,” she said. “Her body and health are deeply affected by pregnancy, as is the course of her life, her ability to work, go to school and to prosper.”
In a brief filed in court, Texas Right to Life argued that women don’t need access to abortion to gain control over their reproductive lives.
“They can do so by refraining from sexual intercourse,” an attorney for Texas Right to Life said in the filing. “The only time abortion is needed to ensure women’s ability to ‘control their reproductive lives’ is when a pregnancy results from non-consensual behavior as in cases of rape, or when a pregnancy is endangering her life.”
If the Supreme Court decides to overturn Roe, 22 states would ban or severely restrict abortion access, the Post reported, citing the Guttmacher Institute, a group focused on reproductive health and rights. The newspaper noted that restrictions on abortion rights have increased in recent years as Republicans have pushed to challenge the decision made in Roe.
The Supreme Court is expected to issue a decision by late June, according to the AP.
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