Editorial Excerpts, September 2021
Published: September 13, 2021
For the nearly five decades since the U.S. Supreme Court decided that a woman has a constitutional right to an abortion, that right has been under attack by state legislators. But the High Court has stood by its landmark decision in Roe v. Wade over and over again in the rulings that followed.
Now the justices have taken a case that could result in that bedrock precedent—a pillar of a woman’s ability to control her body and her life—being overturned. On [May 17], the High Court agreed to weigh in on a Mississippi state law that bans abortions at 15 weeks of pregnancy. A federal district court and the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals both found the law unconstitutional because Roe guarantees a right to an abortion up to the point when a fetus would be viable outside the woman’s body, which is around 24 weeks of gestation.
After months of scheduling and then rescheduling the discussion on whether to hear the state of Mississippi’s appeal of the 5th Circuit’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the Court finally decided to accept it. The Court said it would consider only one of the three questions Mississippi broached, but it’s enormously important: Does the Constitution bar all prohibitions on elective abortions prior to viability?
When deciding this case, the Supreme Court could send a clear message to state legislatures, once and for all, that a woman has a constitutional right to an abortion before the fetus is viable. Any state law that shortens that time frame abridges that right and will always be unconstitutional. That is the opportunity presented by Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, and the Court should seize it.
Federal protection for women’s access to abortions is in more peril than in decades. Women across America should not lose the right to safe, legal abortions because of an ideological tilt by the U.S. Supreme Court.
On May 17, justices voted to hear an abortion case that may give the Court’s newly established six-member conservative majority an opening to overturn the guarantee of abortion access in the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. …
The case concerns a Mississippi law enacted in violation of the Court’s prohibition on abortion bans, or laws that have effects approaching that. The law in question bars abortion after the 15th week of pregnancy. The Court has repeatedly held that abortions must remain available before a fetus is viable outside the womb—about the 24th week or later. A new Texas law signed [May 19] pushes the line further, prohibiting abortions after the sixth week, which is earlier than many women even know they are pregnant.
If the Court overturns or diminishes the Roe v. Wade decision, expect similar prohibitions to creep across the country. Because the then-Republican-held Senate enabled former President Donald Trump to push three conservative justices onto the U.S. Supreme Court, the 5-4 margins that protected abortion access in a 2016 Texas ruling and a 2020 Louisiana one cannot be read as predictive of the next decision on abortion access.
This is a perfect illustration of why elections matter—in this case, those for the president who nominates justices and the Senate seats that confirm them.
If the newest case succeeds in stripping away the protections Roe v. Wade extended to women across the nation, voters should hold Washington’s Republican members of Congress accountable for their aid of the long march to that precipice.