WASHINGTON, D.C.— U.S. Supreme Court justices heard oral arguments Wednesday in a Mississippi case seeking to overturn the state’s law banning abortions after 15 weeks.
Rallies opposed to and in support of the Mississippi law are being staged in Mississippi, throughout the country and in Washington D.C.
Lawmakers in Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama and other states are awaiting the outcome with conservatives hoping to move forward with more restrictive laws.
Mississippi Solicitor General Scott Stewart concluded arguments asking the court to overturn Roe v. Wade — a 1973 Supreme Court decision protecting a woman's decision to have an abortion — and uphold the state’s new law.
“We're running on 50 years of Roe. It is an egregiously wrong decision that has inflicted tremendous damage on our country and will continue to do so and take innumerable human lives unless and until this court overrules it,” Scott said.
Julie Rikelman, senior director for Center for Reproductive Rights, said banning abortions at 15 weeks — two months before viability is unconstitutional; in one case, the Supreme Court rejected every possible reason for overruling Roe, holding that a woman's right to end a pregnancy before viability is the rule of law, she said.
Viability — used to indicate when the fetus can survive outside the womb — is in general near 24 weeks, according to medical professionals.
“For a state to take control of a woman's body and demand that she goes through pregnancy and childbirth, with all the physical risks and life-altering consequences that brings is a fundamental deprivation of her liberty,” Rikelman said, representing Jackson Women's Health, the only abortion clinic left in Mississippi. “Mississippi’s ban would particularly hurt women with a major health or life change during the course of a pregnancy, poor women who are twice as likely to be delayed in accessing care, and young people or those on contraception, who take longer to recognize the pregnancy.”
Wednesday’s hearing appeared to show a majority of justices questioning in ways that appeared to favor, at the least, upholding Mississippi’s law.
Chief Justice John Roberts questioned Rickelman about whether the legal argument is more about a matter of choice.
“Putting the data aside, if you think that the issue is one of choice, that women should have a choice to terminate their pregnancy, that supposes that there is a point at which they’ve had the fair choice, opportunity to choice,” Roberts said. “And why would 15 weeks be an inappropriate line to a viability, it seems to me doesn't have anything to do with choice. But if it really is an issue about choice, why is 15 weeks not enough time?...That's not a dramatic departure from viability.”
Justice Brett Kavanaugh implied on several occasions the lawmakers — at both the state and congressional level — should have the right to govern abortion laws as they see fit.
Implying that Stewart’s and the state's views on abortion and life appear to be religion-based, Justice Sonia Sotomayor appeared to be in support of removing the 15-week ban.
“The issue of when life begins has been hotly debated by philosophers since the beginning of time. It's still debated in religion,” Sotomayor said. “So when you say this is the only right that takes away from the state, the ability to protect the life that's a religious view, isn't it? And assumes that a fetus is life when you're not trying to cure, when do you suggest we begin that life?”
Oral arguments went on for nearly two hours Wednesday amid pro-abortion rallies held in Jackson, Mississippi, and D.C.
Lauren Frazier of Planned Parenthood Southeast said the rally was to bring awareness to the threat of abortion access in Mississippi and around the country. Limiting or restricting abortions, she said, puts women’s health and livelihoods at risk.
“There's going to be some very serious consequences for our folks who aren't able to get the care that they need and compare it to women who aren't able to get the abortion care that they seek and women who do not want an abortion are actually four times greater or four times more likely to end up in poverty,” Frazier said. “Even people who are unable to get the abortion that they want, they're also three times more likely to be unemployed, and they're less likely to be able to have the financial resources to meet their basic needs, like food and housing. So there's just so many different factors at play here, which is why we're fighting so hard.”
It could be months before justices decide the case.
Texas, like Georgia and Tennessee's pending new abortion laws, now prohibits abortions after six weeks.
Alabama's pending law seeks to ban abortions at any stage. Those states' pending abortion laws have not been enforced yet, due to active lawsuits.