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 in an order that it will hear the dispute, Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, 19-1392. The court will hear the case in its term beginning in October and a decision is likely to come by June 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.
The Mississippi abortion clinic that challenged the law, 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 succeed 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.
In a statement, Center for Reproductive Rights President Nancy Northup said, “Alarm bells are ringing loudly about the threat to reproductive rights.”
The Center for Reproductive Rights represented the abortion clinic alongside the law firm Paul Weiss and the Mississippi Center for Justice.
“The consequences of a Roe reversal would be devastating. 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,” Northup said.
Diane Derzis, owner of Jackson Women’s Health Organization, said in a statement that “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 childcare, for a place to stay, and everything else involved.”
“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 said.
Fitch, the Mississippi attorney general, said that the state’s legislature had “enacted this law consistent with the will of its constituents to promote women’s health and preserve the dignity and sanctity of life.”
“I remain committed to advocating for women and defending Mississippi’s legal right to protect the unborn,” she said.
Anti-abortion groups cheered the Supreme Court’s move. Susan B. Anthony List president Marjorie Dannenfelser said that the court’s decision to hear the case was a “landmark opportunity,” citing the enormous number of bills passed recently aimed at restricting abortion access.
“Across the nation, state lawmakers acting on the will of the people have introduced 536 pro-life bills aimed at humanizing our laws and challenging the radical status quo imposed by Roe,” she said.