Roe v. Wade: Judges signal that they will accept new abortion limits

WASHINGTON — In the biggest challenge to abortion rights in decades, the U.S. Supreme Court’s conservative majority signaled on Wednesday that it would allow states to ban abortion much earlier in the period. pregnancy and possibly even subversion of nationwide rights that have existed for nearly 50 years.

With hundreds of protesters outside shouting in support and opposition, the judges made arguments that could decide the fate of the historic 1973 Roe v. Wade court decision to legalize abortion. Nationwide and the 1992 ruling in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which reaffirmed Roe.

Results will probably not be known until next June. But after nearly two hours of debate, all six conservative judges, including three appointed by former US president Donald Trump, said they would support Mississippi’s law banning abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

At the very least, such a decision would weaken Roe and Casey, which allows states to regulate but not ban abortions until the fetus is still alive, at around 24 weeks.

And there is also considerable support among conservative judges to remove Roe and Casey altogether. Judge Clarence Thomas was the only member of the court to have publicly called for the two cases to be handled.

Judge Brett Kavanaugh, a Trump appointee, asked whether the court should withdraw entirely from the abortion issue and let the states decide.

“Why should this court be the arbiter instead of Congress, the state legislatures, the state supreme court who can deal with this?” Kavanaugh asked. “And there will be different answers in Mississippi and New York, different answers in Alabama than in California.”

According to the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization that advocates for abortion rights, abortion will soon become illegal or severely restricted in nearly half of the states if Roe and Casey are exposed. Legislatures in many Republican-led states are poised to act depending on the Supreme Court’s decision. On Wednesday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit overturned previous rulings that had blocked Tennessee law including banning abortions after a fetal heartbeat was detected – around six weeks – and asked the court to full trial.

People of color and less means will be disproportionately affected, abortion rights advocates say.

The court’s three liberal justices said that reversing Roe and Casey would significantly damage the court’s legitimacy.

“Can this institution survive the stench this creates in the public perception that the constitution and its reading are purely political?” Justice Sonia Sotomayor asked.

In unusually strong terms for the high court’s argument, Judge Stephen Breyer warned his colleagues that they “better to be sure” before they throw away abortion decisions has been set.

Opinion polls show support for the preservation of Roe, although some surveys also show support for greater restrictions on abortion.

Among conservatives, Chief Justice John Roberts appeared most interested in a less sweeping ruling that would follow Mississippi law but did not explicitly disprove Roe and Casey.

“That may be what they’re asking for, but the issue at hand before us today is 15 weeks,” said Roberts, referring to Mississippi’s call to roll back the broad cases, Roberts said. greater than upholding its laws.

More than 90 percent of abortions are performed in the first 13 weeks of pregnancy, before they become viable, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Approximately 100 patients a year have an abortion after 15 weeks at the Jackson, Mississippi Women’s Health Organization Single Abortion Clinic. The facility does not provide abortions after 16 weeks.

Even maintaining a 15-week ban would mean rejecting a decades-old limit. Abortion rights advocates say that effectively overturns Roe and leaves no principled boundaries on when to ban abortion.

Justice Neil Gorsuch, another Trump appointee, suggested that the lack of a rigorous alternative could be a reason to completely replace Roe and Casey.

“You emphasize that if 15 weeks is passed, then we will have cases of about 12 and 10 and 8 and 6, and so my question is, is there a line in which the government believes will there be principles,” Gorsuch asked Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar, the Biden management attorney who supports the Mississippi clinic.

“I don’t think there is any line that can be more principled than viability,” says Prelogar.

Supporters on both sides of the abortion debate filled the sidewalks and streets in front of the court, their squabbling protests audible even from inside the building. Protest signs read sentiments like “Her body is her choice” and “God hates the shedding of innocent blood.” The court has stepped up security measures, including closing some streets around the building.

Perhaps in recognition of the gravity of the problem at hand, the judges sat on the bench at 10 p.m. without any of the smiles or private jokes they sometimes shared.

The case that went to court with a 6-3 conservative majority was converted by judges named Trump – Gorsuch, Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett.

A month ago, the judges also heard arguments about a uniquely designed Texas law that succeeded in settling Roe and Casey’s decisions and banning abortion in the nation’s second-largest state. about six weeks pregnant. The legal dispute over Texas law revolves around whether it can be challenged in federal court, rather than the right to an abortion.

The court has yet to issue a ruling on the Texas law, and the judges have refused to hold it while the matter is under legal review.

The Mississippi case raises more central questions about abortion rights. State Attorney General Scott Stewart said Roe and Casey “haunt our country” and “have no basis in the constitution.”

He compared those decisions to Plessy v. Ferguson, the infamous Supreme Court ruling from 1896 that justified formal segregation before it was criticized by Brown v. Board of Education 58 years later.

“We are making 50 years of Roe. It was a seriously wrong decision that has caused enormous damage to our country and will continue to do so and take countless lives unless and for until this court handles it,” he said.

The Mississippi Clinic argues that those two cases were correctly decided and trusted by women and their partners for nearly half a century, a view also made by Justice Elena Kagan.

The decision to have an abortion is “a fabric of the existence of women in this country,” she said.

Barrett approaches the issue of women’s dependence on abortion regulations from a different perspective. She suggested that so-called safe-haven laws in all 50 states that allow mothers to give up parental rights mean that women cannot be forced into motherhood, which could limit employment. and other opportunities.

“Why doesn’t the safe-haven law address that?” she asked.

Barrett, with a long personal record of opposing abortion, admits that courts still have to deal with the issue of forcing women to become pregnant against their will.

She describes such pregnancy as “an invasion of the body’s autonomy, you know, that we encounter in other contexts, like vaccines.”

In earlier rulings, the court rooted the right to abortion in the part of the 14th Amendment saying that states cannot “deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, if no legal proceedings.”

Same-sex marriage and other rights, based on a similar provision but also not explicitly mentioned in the constitution, could be threatened if Roe and Casey fall, the administration argued.

Conventional abortion debates will see people camping out in court for days in hopes of winning a handful of seats available to the public. But with the court closed because of COVID-19, there was only a sparse audience of reporters, the judge’s law clerk and a handful of lawyers inside the courtroom.

If the court issues its decision by the end of June, it will be a little more than four months before next year’s congressional elections, and could become a rallying movement during the campaign season.

Associated Press writer Parker Purifoy contributed to this report.


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