WASHINGTON, D.C. — With abortion rights are on the line, the U.S. Supreme Court began hearing oral arguments about whether Roe v. Wade should be overturned Wednesday.
Listen to the arguments below:
The case being considered is centered on a Mississippi law that bans abortion after 15 weeks.
That law was ratified in the southern state in 2018, but it was blocked by lower courts because it directly conflicts with the Supreme Court’s decisions in 1973’s Roe v. Wade and 1992’s Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which reaffirmed the landmark abortion decision.
Those cases established that the constitution protects a woman's choice to have an abortion and states can only ban abortions after the point of viability, which is when a fetus can survive outside the womb.
In 1992, the high court said the point of viability is between about 23 to 24 weeks, but the Mississippi law bans abortions after 15 weeks.
A majority of abortions happen early in women’s pregnancies. In 2019, 92.7% of abortions were performed 13 weeks or earlier in gestation, about 6.2% were performed at 14 to 20 weeks of gestation, and less than 1% were done at more than 21 weeks, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Only about 100 patients get abortions after 15 weeks at Mississippi’s lone abortion clinic, the Jackson Women’s Health Organization. And the facility doesn’t provide abortions after 16 weeks, The Associated Press reports.
If the justices uphold the Mississippi law, it would be much easier for states to ban or more seriously restrict abortion rights. The Guttmacher Institute estimates that 26 states are “certain or likely” to ban abortion if the high court overturns or diminishes Roe v. Wade.
The Supreme Court has heard cases that threatened Roe v. Wade before, but with a 6-3 conservative majority, the decision in this case could sway in favor of those who want abortion rights abolished or reduced.
The high court was transformed by former President Donald Trump who pledged to appoint justices who oppose abortion rights. He ended up appointing three judges to the bench: Justices Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett.
Clarence Thomas is the only justice who has openly called for Roe and Casey to be overruled, according to the AP. The question remains how many of the other conservative justices are willing to join him in his thinking.
A decision in the case won’t come immediately. It’s expected by late June, a few months before next year’s midterm elections, which could heat up the campaign season regardless of what the court decides.