Roe v. Wade and Women’s Reproductive Rights Now Under Real Threat From Supreme Court

For months, activists and academics have feared that women’s reproductive rights could soon be under attack in the U.S. And it looks like they were right. Following former President Donald Trump’s appointment of three highly conservative judges to the Supreme Court, the nation’s highest legal body has finally decided to take up a Mississippi case that could help lay the groundwork needed to overturn the landmark 1973 ruling in Roe v. Wade, which legalized a woman’s constitutional right to have an abortion.

Nina Totenberg of NPR reported that the Supreme Court has agreed to consider a case during its upcoming fall term that could ban pre-viability abortions and declare a woman’s right to an abortion is no longer protected by the constitution.

According to Totenberg, “the test case is from Mississippi, which bans most abortions after 15 weeks, significantly before fetal viability.”

A conservative panel of judges in the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals blocked enforcement of the law, saying it conflicted with Roe v. Wade and later court decisions on the matter. But Mississippi appealed, and the case has been left pending for the Supreme Court to consider since last fall, approximately a month before the newest Justice, Amy Coney Barrett, was confirmed to replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

“There is no indication of why the court stayed its hand for so long, but the case was listed on the weekly conference for discussion by the justices 17 times before Monday’s announcement,” Totenberg reported.

The Mississippi law is one of several recent state attacks on Roe v. Wade, and many women’s rights advocates have feared that if any of these cases made their way into the Supreme Court, the effects could be catastrophic.

“The consequences of a Roe reversal would be devastating,” said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights in an interview with NPR. 

Julie Rikelman, the group’s litigation director, added that such a verdict could enable “about 24 states” to quickly move in prohibiting abortion within their jurisdictions, including 11 states with so-called “trigger bans” that would allow them to immediately outlaw abortions the moment Roe v. Wade was overturned.

Totenberg reported that “bans on pre-viability [and] abortion bans have been struck down, until now, in a dozen states since 2019, including Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Montana, Missouri, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah and Tennessee.” But that all changes now that the court has a 6-3 conservative supermajority; according to Totenberg, all six conservative Justices have previously taken positions critical to abortion rights at least once in their careers.

NYU law professor Melissa Murray agreed with the assessment. In an interview with Totenberg, she said, “It does seem to be an inflection point for the future of reproductive rights and certainly the future of Roe.” Even though previous courts have all stood by the legacy of Roe, Murray said this court decision to step across that previous line “puts Roe squarely in the crosshairs.”

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