The U.S. Supreme Court will hear a case on a Mississippi abortion law challenging Roe v. Wade. The decision to review Jackson Women’s Health Organization v. Dobbs next term was made on Monday, May 17, after being rescheduled for the court’s consideration in conference more than a dozen times.
The controversial law seeks to ban abortions in Mississippi provided after the 15-week mark. In 1973, the court’s ruling in Roe v. Wade gave women the constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy during the first 24 weeks, when the fetus is incapable of surviving outside the womb. In this latest case, SCOTUS will review whether all state laws, like the one passed in Mississippi, that ban previability abortions are unconstitutional.
If the Supreme Court upholds Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban, it will pose a threat to abortion rights nationwide. The ban was signed into law in 2018 by former Republican governor Phil Bryant. The only noted exception was for medical emergencies or cases in which there is a “severe fetal abnormality.” Instances of rape or incest were not considered exemptions. A federal judge in Mississippi struck down the law later that year, and the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that ruling in December 2019. Now the Supreme Court, which currently has a 6-3 conservative majority since Amy Coney-Barrett’s appointment, will potentially rule on the case in the middle of the 2022 midterm elections.
What this means for Roe v. Wade right now
The decision on the Mississippi abortion law will affect the future of Roe v. Wade in a time when other states like Louisiana and Alabama are attempting to strip women of their reproductive freedoms. The Center for Reproductive Rights published a report showing that if Roe fell tomorrow, 24 states would likely take action to ban abortion outright. Eleven states already have “trigger bans” in place, which would ban abortion immediately if Roe v. Wade is overturned.
Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, tells Glamour that federal protections are what will matter if the ban is upheld. “One of the most important things is to make sure we have protection at the federal level,” Northup explains. “We’re going to need to have nationwide protections should the Supreme Court weaken those protections at all. We want to make sure that the EACH Act and the Women’s Health Protection Act are there as strong federal safeguards.”
Kristyn Brandi, M.D., an ob-gyn and board chair of Physicians for Reproductive Health, agrees. “I am very concerned by this and other attacks on reproductive health care during a global pandemic,” Brandi said in a statement. “We should be making care more accessible, not limiting options. That is why federal legislation like the Women’s Health Protection Act and the Equal Access to Abortion Coverage in Health Insurance (EACH) Act are so important. The evidence is clear—abortion is health care. We should not be questioning the validity of this fact.”
How the law could affect Mississippi
Jackson Women’s Health Organization is the only abortion clinic in Mississippi. Restrictions on abortions have a disproportionate impact on communities who are already inequitably impacted by barriers to health care. These communities include BIPOC people capable of pregnancy, people with low incomes, people living in rural communities, and LGBTQIA people.
“It is very disheartening to me that often your reproductive health care depends on your zip code,” Brandi tells Glamour. “I want people in Mississippi to be able to access the same quality health care, including abortion care, as they could anywhere else. All people should have access to care. We should be trying to strengthen the care of all people, not weaken it with partisan legislation.”
Clinic director Shannon Brewer is the plaintiff in the case and says that the clinic doesn’t provide abortions past 16 weeks. When asked the percentage of patients who receive abortions after 15 weeks, she said, “A rough estimate is 10%.”
Northup added that the low percentage of women seeking abortions past the 15-week mark shows that the legislation is about trying to roll back abortion rights. “I think this shows how much this is a political tactic to seek to destroy the fabric of Roe v. Wade,” she said. “It’s a small percentage of women…. This is part of what’s been a strategy for years.”
What happens next
“Everyone across the country who cares about this issue needs to get motivated and active now,” Northup says. “You need to make sure that both the White House and the Congress understand that we are going to have these rights protected and not go backward.”