The Supreme Court agreed Monday to hold a hearing on a major abortion case that could limit Roe v. Wade and protect babies from late-term abortions. The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a law that bans killing babies in abortions after 15 weeks.
The 2018 Mississippi law prohibits abortions after 15 weeks except when there are risks to the life or physical health of the mother, or fatal fetal anomalies. Based on state health records, about 200 unborn babies between 15 and 20 weeks are aborted every year in Mississippi and the law would save their lives.
Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch asked the high court to consider the 15-week abortion ban last year.
“The petition asks the court to clarify its jurisprudence on abortion to allow states like ours to enact laws that further their legitimate interests in protecting maternal health, safeguarding unborn babies, and promoting respect for innocent and vulnerable life,” Fitch said in a statement in June. “We are hopeful that the court will accept our case and allow Mississippi to defend innocent life as the legislature and the people of this great state intend.”
Fitch’s brief referred to the high court’s recent ruling on a Louisiana abortion regulation in June Medical Services v. Russo. She pointed out conflicting lower court rulings that cite the arguments in that case and asked the Supreme Court for clarification, the report states.
“This case remains an ideal vehicle to promptly resolve both that question and the first question presented—the contradictions in this Court’s decisions over use of ‘viability’ as a bright line for measuring pro-life legislation,” she wrote.
Mississippi’s law highlights a conflict between the Supreme Court’s ruling in Roe v. Wade and the court’s repeated affirmation in subsequent cases that states have a legitimate interest in limiting abortion and protecting “vulnerable and innocent life” from the moment of conception.
“Every human life is valuable, and Mississippi’s law is a commonsense step toward protecting unborn children and their mothers from the harms of late-term abortion,” said Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsel Denise Harle. “The law protects the life of a baby who can already move around and kick in her mom’s womb—a child who has a heartbeat, can taste what her mom eats, and can experience pain. And the law also protects women, since late-term abortions grow increasingly dangerous to the mother’s health. Women and their children both deserve real health care; that’s why we’re glad the Supreme Court has decided to take up this matter.”
The state argues that “viability” is an arbitrary standard for determining when a state’s interests are sufficient to regulate, and that the Supreme Court has already recognized that the state has a legitimate interest in protecting the unborn infant and the health of the mother from the very beginning of pregnancy.
“The Supreme Court has repeatedly recognized that states are free to regulate late-term abortions,” said ADF Senior Counsel and Vice President of Appellate Advocacy John Bursch. “Thanks to amazing progress in scientific research and medical technology, the concept of ‘viability’ is an ever-moving target as younger children have survived and thrived after preterm birth. But ‘viability’ has never been a legitimate way to determine a developing infant’s dignity or to decide anybody’s legal existence. The high court should take this important opportunity to resolve the conflicts between its previous rulings and affirm the constitutionality of Mississippi’s law.”
Many states have pro-life laws that protect unborn children after 20-24 weeks of pregnancy, which is the most they are able to do considering the Supreme Court refuses to allow states to ban abortions prior to viability. Through this new case, Mississippi is challenging that precedent.
Polls consistently find strong public support for abortion restrictions after the first trimester. Gallup has been asking about the legality of abortions by trimester for decades. Its polls have found steady, strong opposition to abortions in the second and third trimesters.
Additionally, a 2019 Hill-HarrisX poll found that 55 percent of voters said they do not think laws banning abortions after six weeks – when an unborn baby’s heartbeat is detectable – are too restrictive.
In a separate case, Mississippi also is fighting in court to defend its heartbeat law, which would protect almost all unborn babies from abortions in the state.
The Supreme Court took away the states’ ability to protect unborn babies from abortion, and instead allowed abortion on demand through all nine months of pregnancy. Roe made the United States one of only seven countries in the world that allows elective abortions after 20 weeks.
There is more hope that the Supreme Court may consider overturning Roe, especially now that Justice Amy Coney Barrett has been confirmed.