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Supreme Court to Hear Landmark Abortion Case

November 10th, 2021

The Supreme Court will soon hear an abortion case out of Mississippi that directly challenges the precedent set in Roe v. Wade.
The Supreme Court will soon hear an abortion case out of Mississippi that directly challenges the precedent set in Roe v. Wade.

On October 4, 2021, the United States Supreme Court began its annual term with a busy agenda that involves three claims addressing alleged constitutional rights violations. One of the biggest cases involves abortion rights. Several states are currently requesting that the Supreme Court reconsider Roe v. Wade, a 1973 ruling that established the Constitutional right of a woman to terminate a pregnancy despite the moral beliefs of other citizens. Despite nearly 50 years of precedent, an abortion case out of Mississippi will be one of the most closely-watched cases of the term and may well lead to Roe being overturned.

How the Supreme Court Has Approached Abortion

Since 1973, the Supreme Court recognized the fundamental right for a woman to make her decisions about having a child up until the point of viability, which occurs around 24 weeks of gestation when a fetus can survive on its own outside of the womb. Since then, however, several states have passed laws challenging Roe’s constitutionality by reducing the threshold.

Public opinion about abortion has remained mostly stable during a time of political polarization. From the 1970s to now, approximately 20% of Americans have believed that abortion should be illegal under all circumstances. Meanwhile, approximately 50% of Americans have expressed support for abortion that is legal with some restrictions.

The Supreme Court has dealt with several cases over the years and issued decisions that have slowly chipped away at abortion rights but ultimately allowed Roe to stand.

The Pending Abortion Case

The case, Dobbs. V. Jackson Women’s Health, involves the Mississippi legislature’s decision to pass the Gestational Act in 2018, which prohibits abortion after 15 weeks. The law acknowledged exceptions for medical emergencies as well as severe fetal abnormality. 

This law was later challenged by the sole remaining abortion clinic in the state. First, the case was heard by the United States District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi. In 2018, the District Court ruled in favor of the client and an injunction was placed on Mississippi enjoining it from enforcing the act. The judge, in this case, argues that based on evidence that the viability of the fetus begins between 23 to 24 weeks, Mississippi lacked a legitimate state interest strong enough to justify an abortion ban. 

Mississippi later appealed to the Fifth Circuit, which upheld the District Court’s ruling. A Senior Circuit Judge wrote that in his opinion, states can regulate abortion procedures before viability provided they do not impose an undue burden on the woman’s rights, but that states are prohibited from banning abortions. 

The case is currently on pause until the Supreme Court hears oral arguments on December 1st. The justices, in this case, will consider the longstanding debate about whether the Constitution protects a right to choose. The Justices in Dobbs will also be required to answer the question of whether a fetus is a person who has rights or an aspect of a pregnant woman. The Constitution provides no clues about understanding the answer to this question.

Tracking Right to Life Cases

Abortion is a passionately debated area of religious rights. Each week, the Universal Life Church’s blog focuses on detailing noteworthy religious rights cases. Our blog does so in a way that objectively examines opposing sides and does so in a tone that strives to make complex matters easily understood by readers.

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