/ 03 December 2021

Rollin’ back with the US Supreme Court

Image source: Unsplash
Image source: Unsplash

It’s an issue that’s never far from the frontline of American politics, and now 6 of the Supreme Court’s 9 judges are set to accept a legal challenge that could ban abortions after 15 weeks. Currently set at 24 weeks, the laws were established in a famous case known as Roe v Wade. Reports say that conservative judges are ready to abandon that decision and give states the right to decide whether – and at what stage of pregnancy – terminations would be allowed. In language you don’t usually hear in the staid legal environment, Justice Stephen Breyer warned his colleagues they had “better be damn sure” of their next steps.

Fair call. In 1973, an all-male US Supreme Court voted 7-2 to make it legal to have an abortion in a judgement that said it was a woman’s “fundamental right”. In that case, the state of Texas (represented by district attorney Henry Wade) was found to have breached the rights of “Jane Roe” when she was banned from having a termination. Many legal and political attempts have been made to chip away at it in the decades that followed, and there’s been violence too with 11 people associated with services murdered since the 70s. But until recently, the prospect of rolling back the Roe v Wade precedent seemed fanciful. Fast-forward to 2016 when Donald Trump won the Presidency… He promised to appoint new Supreme Court justices who would “automatically” overturn Roe – a promise that he kept. Pro-choice groups warn that disadvantaged women will be the worst affected if the Supreme Court rolls back abortion rights in the US.

The current case is Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the only abortion clinic in Mississippi. Conservative justices yesterday indicated they are up for ditching the status quo, but liberal members of the Supreme Court aren’t going down without a fight with Justice Sonia Sotomayor saying change could damage the court’s legitimacy. Chief Justice John Roberts has floated a 3rd way: that the court upholds the Mississippi laws but doesn’t overturn Roe in its entirety. “Why is 15 weeks not enough time” to decide to get an abortion, he asked. The court will make its final judgement on the matter next June so strap yourself in for this to be ongoing for a while…

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