Anti-choice activists across the country have been desperate to get a challenge to Roe v. Wade in front of the Supreme Court since the appointment of Justice Neil Gorsuch in 2017 tilted the balance to conservatives. The addition of Justice Amy Coney Barrett in 2020 only increased their fervor.
Today, they got their wish.
The current case began on March 19, 2018, when then-Governor of Mississippi Phil Bryant (R) signed a bill that banned abortions after 15 weeks. It would have closed Jackson Women’s Health Organization—the only remaining abortion provider in the state. The same day, the clinic, represented by the Center for Reproductive Rights, requested a temporary restraining order to block the law, which was granted by a federal district court the following day. In November 2018, that court ruled the law unconstitutional and entered a permanent injunction, writing, “The State chose to pass a law it knew was unconstitutional to endorse a decades-long campaign, fueled by national interest groups, to ask the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade.”
The state of Mississippi appealed, and in December 2019, a three-judge panel of the Fifth Circuit unanimously affirmed the lower court’s decision to strike down ban. In his written opinion, Judge Patrick Higginbotham said, “In an unbroken line dating to Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court’s abortion cases have established (and affirmed, and re-affirmed) a woman’s right to choose an abortion before viability. States may regulate abortion procedures prior to viability so long as they do not impose an undue burden on the woman’s right, but they may not ban abortions.”
On June 15, 2020, Mississippi filed a petition asking the U.S. Supreme Court to take up the case.
And today, the justices agreed.
Make no mistake: This is a direct threat to abortion access in the United States. Over the past few years, 12 other states (Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Ohio, Oklahoma, Missouri, Montana, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Utah) have passed pre-viability abortion bans. Since 2010, the Guttmacher Institute has documented 544 enacted state-level abortion restrictions in the United States.
The assault on reproductive health and rights is real, and we are headed for the biggest battle in decades. There is no way for the Court to rule in favor of the state of Mississippi that would not undermine the core holding of Roe. If Roe falls, tens of millions of people will live in states where abortion is illegal. That burden will fall most heavily, as it always does, on poor people and people of color, who, because of long-standing structural inequities, will be least able to travel to a jurisdiction where abortion remains legal.
The Court is expected to hear the case this fall, and a ruling should come in early 2022.