US Supreme Court hears oral arguments in Mississippi abortion law case
© WikiMedia (US Capitol)
US Supreme Court hears oral arguments in Mississippi abortion law case

The US Supreme Court Wednesday heard oral arguments in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a case involving a Mississippi law banning all abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

This case arises out of a lawsuit between Jackson Women’s Health Organization—the only abortion provider in the state—and the state of Mississippi. Mississippi’s Gestational Age Act, passed in 2018, outlaws abortions after 15 weeks. The law has only a few exceptions, like when the mother’s life is endangered.

Jackson Women’s Health Organization challenged the law. The trial court granted summary judgment for the plaintiffs, blocking the law. Thomas Dobbs, the State Health Officer for the Mississippi Department of Health, then appealed to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. The appeals court concluded that the law was unconstitutional. Dobbs then appealed the case to the Supreme Court. 

In May, the Supreme Court agreed to consider the case. In September, the court announced that it would hear oral arguments on December 1, and the US Department of Justice sought to participate in the suit. The court heard arguments Wednesday on the issue of “[w]hether all pre-viability prohibitions on elective abortions are unconstitutional.”

Petitioners opened oral arguments by asserting that Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey “haunt” the country and keep the Supreme Court “at the center of a political battle that it can never resolve.” They asked the court to overrule the two cases and to uphold the Mississippi abortion law.

Justice Thomas noted that the jurisprudence focused on autonomy and privacy, as opposed to the right to abortion. Justice Sotomayor stated that the line of viability that Casey drew has not been at issue in the past 30 years. She noted concerns that changing the viability line now would create a “stench . . . in the public perception that the Constitution and its reading are just political acts.”

Petitioners argued that viability is a “quintessentially legislative line” that is “not tethered to anything in the Constitution, in history or tradition.” Chief Justice Roberts questioned whether the viability line was crucial, stating that “the fetus has an interest in having a life.” Respondents, in turn, argued that the Mississippi law would do “profound damage to women’s liberty, equality and the rule of law.”

Because this case has the potential to overrule Casey and Roe, it has garnered great public interest. More than 140 amicus briefs were filed in the case. Hundreds of demonstrators rallied outside of the Supreme Court during oral arguments.

Several sources believe that the Supreme Court will likely uphold Mississippi’s abortion law. However, the case is not expected to be decided for several months.