Abortion advocates across the country were in panic mode on Wednesday after conservative justices on the U.S. Supreme Court appeared to signal a readiness to overrule or at least dramatically roll back abortion rights that were created by the court nearly 50 years ago in the landmark case of Roe v. Wade.
What are the details?
Multiple news outlets reported Wednesday that the high court’s oral arguments in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization spelled doom for sweeping abortion access in the country. Conservative justices seemed overwhelmingly inclined to side with the state of Mississippi in the case, which involves a state law that bans most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy.
The law as it stands violates constitutional precedent since it empowers the state to ban abortions before a fetus is deemed able to survive outside the womb, an action outlawed under both Roe and a 1992 ruling, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, that reaffirmed Roe. Fetal viability is generally considered to occur at roughly 24 weeks, though that timeframe has been challenged.
By agreeing to hear the case in the first place, the Supreme Court showed that it was ready to review, and perhaps undo, legal precedents surrounding a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy. And should the court ultimately rule in favor of the state, it would require a reversal or a reinterpretation of the court’s past rulings.
While a formal decision won’t be issued until June or July, based on the oral arguments, at least, many believe that is exactly what is coming.
“The oral argument made it all too clear,” Washington Post opinion editor Ruth Marcus wrote. “Constitutional protection for a woman’s right to choose whether to end an unwanted pregnancy is about to be dramatically curtailed if not eliminated altogether.”
“It went worse than had been expected, and expectations were already low,” Guardian columnist Moira Donegan added. “After Wednesday’s oral arguments, it seems certain that Roe v Wade will soon be overturned.”
The reaction was sharper among abortion advocates outside the mainstream media.
Alexis McGill Johnson, the president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, called the arguments “alarming” in a statement, noting that “the majority of the Supreme Court justices appeared prepared to allow politicians to control what we can do with our bodies,” according to Newsweek.
Johnson added on Twitter that the country is “at a crisis point” and insisted that her organization “refuse[s] to just stand by.”
Shannon Brewer, the clinic director of Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a plaintiff in the case, looked for energy outside the courtroom to give her “some sense of hope that we will and must win.”
“They’re going to either gut Roe or overturn it. Turns out 2016 was a pretty consequential election,” commented Atlantic writer Molly Jong-Fast.
Jordan Zakarin of Progressives Everywhere lashed out at Democrats for allowing such an attack on abortion to happen.
“Democrats are going to watch Roe v Wade get overturned and do nothing about it — not expand the Supreme Court, not pass legislation to codify legal abortion, nothing,” he tweeted. “Why would anyone give them their time or money? They broke their promises. Why fall for it again?”
During the arguments themselves, liberal Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor resorted to arguing that the court should stand pat on the issue of abortion in order to save face with the public, slamming the notion of overturning Roe as a “political” stunt that would irreparably damage the court.
“Will this institution survive the stench that this creates in the public perception that the Constitution and its reading are just political acts?” she asked. “If people actually believe that it’s all political, how will we survive?”