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Supreme Court takes up major abortion case next term that could limit Roe v. Wade


Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban, which then-Gov. Phil Bryant, a Republican, signed into law in 2018, made exceptions only for medical emergencies or cases in which there is a “severe fetal abnormality,” but not for instances of rape or incest. A federal judge in Mississippi struck down the law in November 2018, and the 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that ruling in December 2019.
After being rescheduled for the court’s consideration in conference over a dozen times, the case could present a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade, the 1973 landmark Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion nationwide prior to viability, which can occur at around 24 weeks of pregnancy.

It will be a blockbuster case, with the justices revisiting an issue that still deeply divides the country some fifty years after the landmark opinion, and with a ruling potentially coming in the middle of the 2022 midterm elections.

The case will thrust the court — with a 6-3 conservative majority — directly into the culture wars at a time when states across the country are attempting to pass more restrictive measures.

South Carolina, Oklahoma and Idaho have codified bans this year on abortion at the onset of a fetal heartbeat. Also this year, Arkansas and Oklahoma have enacted near-total abortion bans, and Montana banned the procedure at 20 weeks. None of the bills have gone into effect, either because of court actions or later effective dates.

“This will be, by far, the most important abortion case the Court will have heard since the Casey decision in 1992,” said Steve Vladeck, CNN Supreme Court analyst and professor at the University of Texas School of Law. “If states are allowed to effectively ban abortions after the 15th week of pregnancy, as the Mississippi law in this case does, then pregnant women would have a far shorter window in which they could lawfully obtain an abortion than what Roe and Casey currently require.”

The court’s move also highlights the impact of Justice Amy Coney Barrett, who likely voted with the majority to take up the case and will spread concerns from supporters of abortion rights who fear she is poised to move the court to the right on the issue. The Mississippi case will be the third major abortion case acted on by the court this year as the high court has expressed interest in considering abortion restrictions.

In March, the high court agreed to decide next term whether Kentucky’s Republican attorney general can defend a controversial abortion-related law that had been struck down by a lower court, keeping the legal fight going. Lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union representing the EMW Women’s Surgical Center and several doctors say the Kentucky law imposes an undue burden on the right to pre-viability abortion by “effectively” prohibiting the “standard second-trimester abortion method.”

In January, the Supreme Court granted the Trump administration’s request to reinstate long-standing restrictions for patients seeking to obtain a drug used for abortions early in pregnancy — with the three liberals dissenting in a potential preview of a new chapter in the court’s rulings on the procedure.

This story is breaking and will be updated.


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