On December 1, 2021, the Center for Reproductive Rights argued before the U.S. Supreme Court to defend the right to abortion as recognized in the landmark Roe v. Wade decision in 1973. The case—Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization—is the first time the Supreme Court will rule on the constitutionality of a pre-viability abortion ban since Roe. The state of Mississippi has asked the Court to overturn Roe v. Wade and find there is no right to abortion.
The Mississippi law being reviewed by the Court bans abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy. The state enacted this ban in direct defiance of Roe and the nearly 50 years of Supreme Court precedent affirming Roe’s core holding—that every pregnant person has the right to decide whether to continue their pregnancy prior to viability.
“Mississippi’s ban on abortion two months before viability is flatly unconstitutional under decades of precedent,” said Julie Rikelman, the Center’s Senior Litigation Director, arguing before the Court. “For a state to take control of a woman’s body and demand that she go through pregnancy and childbirth, with all the physical risks and life-altering consequences that brings, is a fundamental deprivation of her liberty.”
A decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization is expected sometime in 2022.
What’s at Stake in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization
This case is a direct challenge to the constitutional right to abortion, a right recognized in Roe v. Wade and affirmed repeatedly by the Supreme Court since 1973. As the Supreme Court considers a pre-viability ban on abortion for the first time since Roe, the case puts the question of the future of the constitutional right to abortion in the United States squarely before the Court.
In Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the Court has agreed to consider the question as to whether all pre-viability prohibitions on abortion are unconstitutional, despite nearly half a century of precedent affirming they are.
If the Supreme Court overturns Roe, 24 states and three territories could quickly take action to prohibit abortion, according to the Center’s What if Roe Fell analysis of state abortion laws. Already, 12 states have “trigger bans” in place, designed to ban abortion immediately if Roe falls.
The ban is part of Mississippi’s history of attempting to control women’s bodies and perpetuates deeply unjust systems in the United States. The Mississippi ban would fall hardest on Black women and people having difficulty making ends meet because they already face significant barriers to accessing health care due to systemic racism, implicit biases, and other forms of discrimination. Abortion bans and restrictions are part of the decades of policies that institutionalize discrimination in health care and perpetuate systems of oppression.
In its brief filed with the Court, the Center states, “As abortion bans are enforced—or the threat of enforcement looms—large swaths of the South and Midwest would likely be without access to legal abortion. Some people with the means to travel may be able to access legal abortion—but only after crossing multiple state lines.” Many others—especially young people and others without such means, many of whom are women of color—will not. They will, instead, attempt to “end their own pregnancies outside the medical system, which could expose them and anyone who helps them to criminal investigation and prosecution. Some would attempt abortion by unsafe or ineffective methods. . . . For many, the barriers will simply be too high, and they will be forced to endure the substantial risks of continued pregnancy and childbirth.”
Weakening or overturning Roe could also have consequences beyond abortion rights. Roe is woven into our rights to make personal decisions beyond abortion, including who to have intimate relationships with, who to marry, and whether to use contraception.
- Stakes are High in Upcoming U.S. Supreme Court Case Challenging Mississippi Abortion Ban, 09.13.21
- Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization: The case in depth
- Case News: The latest news coverage and analysis about the case.