Skip to content

Supreme Court to hear Mississippi abortion ban case

Case of state law banning abortion after 15 weeks could set nationwide precedent

Demonstrators at the Supreme Court in mid-October 2020 as Congress considered the nomination of conservative Supreme Court justice nominee Amy Coney Barrett shortly before the election.
Demonstrators at the Supreme Court in mid-October 2020 as Congress considered the nomination of conservative Supreme Court justice nominee Amy Coney Barrett shortly before the election. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The Supreme Court announced Monday that it will decide a major case next term about whether Mississippi can ban abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, with some exceptions.

The case could reshape the constitutional right to an abortion nationwide, now that former President Donald Trump’s three appointees give conservatives a 6-3 advantage on the bench.

The high court limited the case — Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization — to a question about whether all pre-viability prohibitions on elective abortions are unconstitutional.

The Supreme Court had repeatedly delayed since last year a decision on whether to take up the case.

The Mississippi law, which has never taken effect, would ban abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy. It provided limited exceptions for medical emergencies or a “severe fetal anomaly.”

The landmark 1973 case of Roe v. Wade affirmed a nationwide right to abortion, but states are allowed to enact some abortion restrictions after the point of fetal viability.

Laws that block abortion before the point of viability, or when a fetus could survive outside the womb, have not gone into effect because of precedent under the 1992 Supreme Court case Planned Parenthood v. Casey.

States have enforced some limits on the time period during pregnancy in which an abortion can be performed, but the Supreme Court has not yet ruled on this.

The Mississippi law was previously blocked by both the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi as well as the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Many experts were skeptical that the Supreme Court would take the case, as there had not yet been a split circuit decision in a similar case, which is often an indicator that a case may make it to the high court.

Opponents of the law argue that it directly violates the precedent under Planned Parenthood v. Casey and could open the door to stricter state-level abortion bans.

Planned Parenthood v. Casey permits restrictions after the point of viability. Opponents of the law say 15 weeks is too early for the fetus to survive outside the womb. State-level bans that ban abortion after 20 weeks are in effect in many states.

Officials from the Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the sole abortion clinic left in Mississippi, said if the ban were upheld, it would essentially block women in the state from exercising their constitutional right to abortion.

“As the only abortion clinic left in Mississippi, we see patients who have spent weeks saving up the money to travel here and pay for childcare, for a place to stay, and everything else involved. If this ban were to take effect, we would be forced to turn many of those patients away, and they would lose their right to abortion in this state,” Diane Derzis, owner of Jackson Women’s Health Organization, said in a statement.

But conservative groups say the Supreme Court has been expected to take up a case like this for some time. They say states should be given latitude to regulate abortion, and there is no official determination for when viability occurs.

“Various justices and concurring or dissenting opinions over the years have been highly critical of the viability line as the test for when abortion restrictions can take place, because it’s artificial and constantly changing based on science,” John Bursch, Alliance Defending Freedom’s vice president of appellate advocacy and senior counsel, told CQ Roll Call last year.

Recent Stories

Iranian retaliatory attack on Israel flips script as Biden had pressed for changes in Gaza

Total eclipse of the Hart (and Russell buildings) — Congressional Hits and Misses

House plans to send Mayorkas impeachment articles to Senate on Tuesday

Harris sticks with Agriculture spending, Amodei likely to head DHS panel

Editor’s Note: What passes for normal in Congress

House approves surveillance authority reauthorization bill