Judges signal they can throw Roe to allow new abortion limits

WASHINGTON (AP) – The six Conservative Supreme Court justices who heard the biggest challenge to abortion law in decades have hinted they will uphold a Mississippi law that bans abortions after 15 weeks of gestation.

The Conservative majority in the nine-member court signaled on Wednesday that it would allow states to ban abortion in pregnancy much sooner, and possibly even repeal nearly 50 years of statewide law.

With hundreds of protesters outside singing for and against, the judges made arguments that undermined the fate of the historic 1973 Roe v. Wade court ruling legalizing abortion across the United States and its 1992 ruling Planned Parenthood v. Casey, who Roe confirmed, could decide.

The result is not expected to be announced until June. But after nearly two hours of fighting, the six Conservative judges, including three appointed by former President Donald Trump, said they were upholding Mississippi law. At the very least, such a decision would undermine Roe and Casey, which allows states to regulate but not prohibit abortion until the fetus is viable after about 24 weeks.

There was also considerable support among the Conservative judges in getting rid of Roe and Casey completely. Judge Clarence Thomas is the only member of the court who has openly called for the two cases to be set aside.

Trump-appointed Judge Brett Kavanaugh asked if the court was better off pulling out of the abortion issue entirely and letting the states decide.

“Why should this court be the arbitrator and not Congress, the state legislatures, the state supreme courts that can resolve the people?” Asked Kavanaugh California. “

According to the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization campaigning for the right to abortion, if Roe and Casey were overthrown, abortion would soon be illegal or severely restricted in about half of the states. Legislators in many Republican-led states are ready to act depending on the decision of the Supreme Court. On Wednesday, the U.S. Sixth District Court of Appeals overturned previous judgments blocking a Tennessee law banning abortion once a fetal heartbeat was detected – about six weeks – and ordered a full court retrial at.

People of color and the poor would be disproportionately affected, say proponents of abortion law.

The court’s three liberal justices said that a Roe and Casey reversal would seriously undermine the court’s legitimacy.

“Will this institution survive the stink that comes from the public perception that the Constitution and its reading are just political acts?” Asked Judge Sonia Sotomayor.

In unusually strong terms for an argument in court, Judge Stephen Breyer warned his colleagues that they were “damn safe” before they ditch the established abortion decisions.

Public opinion polls show support for getting Roe, although some polls also find support for stronger abortion restrictions.

Among the Conservatives, Chief Justice John Roberts seemed most interested in a less far-reaching ruling that would uphold Mississippi law but not specifically override Roe and Casey.

“That may be what they are asking, but the thing we are debating today is 15 weeks,” said Roberts, alluding to Mississippi’s call to repeal the larger cases and uphold its own law.

More than 90% of abortions are performed in the first 13 weeks of pregnancy, well before viability, according to the federal centers for disease control and prevention.

Approximately 100 patients a year are aborted after 15 weeks at the Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the only abortion clinic in Mississippi. The facility does not offer abortions after 16 weeks.

Even maintaining the 15-week ban would mean rejecting the decade-old line of profitability. Proponents of abortion rights say this would effectively overthrow Roe and leave no principled limit for a ban on abortion.

Judge Neil Gorsuch, another Trump-appointed MP, suggested that the lack of a rigorous alternative could be a reason to completely overrule Roe and Casey.

“They stressed that if 15 weeks were allowed we would have cases of 12 and 10 and 8 and 6, and so my question is, is there a limit that the government believes is principled or not” Gorsuch asked Attorney General Elizabeth Prelogar, attorney for the Biden government that supports the Mississippi clinic.

“I don’t think there is a line that could be more principled than profitability,” said Prelogar.

Supporters of both sides in the abortion debate filled the sidewalk and the street in front of the court, their duel rallies could even be heard from inside the building. Opposing signs read such feelings as “Your Body of Choice” and “God Hates the Shedding of Innocent Blood”. The court tightened security measures and closed some streets around the building.

Perhaps in recognition of the gravity of the matter before them, the judges took the bench at 10 a.m. without any smile or the private jokes they sometimes share.

The case came to a conservative majority of 6-3 in a court that was commuted by Trump-nominated justices – Gorsuch, Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett.

A month ago, judges also heard arguments about a uniquely designed Texan law that managed to bypass Roe and Casey’s rulings to ban abortion in the nation’s second largest state after roughly six weeks of pregnancy. The litigation over Texas law is more about whether it can be challenged in federal court than about the right to abortion.

The court has yet to rule on Texas law, and judges have refused to put it on hold while the matter is under review.

The Mississippi case raises questions that are central to abortion law. Attorney General Scott Stewart said Roe and Casey would “haunt our country” and “have no basis in the constitution”.

He compared these decisions with Plessy v. Ferguson, the infamous Supreme Court ruling of 1896 that justified official segregation before it was 58 years later by Brown v. Board of Education was repealed.

“We are counting on 50 years of Roe. It is a tremendously wrong decision that has caused enormous damage to our country and will continue to do so and cost countless lives unless and until this court overturns it, “he said.

The Mississippi Clinic argued that these two cases were resolved correctly and that women and their partners have relied on them for nearly half a century, a point also highlighted by Judge Elena Kagan.

Abortion decisions are “part of the existence of women in this country,” she said.

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

“Why don’t the safe-haven laws deal with this problem?” She asked.

Barrett, who has long personally spoken out against abortion, admitted that the court has yet to address the question of whether women will be forced to remain pregnant against their will.

She described such a pregnancy as “a violation of physical autonomy, you know, that we have in other contexts like vaccines.”


Associated Press Writer Parker Purifoy contributed to this report.

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