The Center for Reproductive Rights will return to the United States Supreme Court next term to defend the right to abortion, a right recognized in Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision.
On May 17, the Court announced it will hear Mississippi’s appeal of an appellate court decision that threw out Mississippi’s law banning abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy in Jackson Women’s Health Organization v. Dobbs.
This is the first time the Court will rule on the constitutionality of a pre-viability abortion ban since Roe. The Court’s ruling in Roe recognized that the decision whether to continue a pregnancy or have an abortion, which impacts a person’s body, health, family and future, belongs to the individual, not the government.
Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement: “Alarm bells are ringing loudly about the threat to reproductive rights. The Supreme Court just agreed to review an abortion ban that unquestionably violates nearly 50 years of Supreme Court precedent and is a test case to overturn Roe v. Wade.” Northup added, “The consequences of a Roe reversal would be devastating. Over 20 states would prohibit abortion outright. Eleven states—including Mississippi—currently have trigger bans on the books which would instantaneously ban abortion if Roe is overturned.”
Abortion remains legal in Mississippi and the ban remains blocked while the case proceeds.
Wave of Unconstitutional Abortion Bans
Thirteen other states have passed unconstitutional abortion bans since 2019: Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Montana, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Utah.
Every ban on abortion at varying points in pregnancy that has been challenged has been struck down. These bans defy nearly 50 years of Supreme Court precedent recognizing that the Constitution guarantees each person the right to decide whether to continue a pregnancy. States passed these bans as a part of a deliberate, coordinated effort to provoke the Supreme Court to overturn Roe, and give states—rather than individuals—the power to make fundamental decisions about people’s bodies, health, and lives.
Generations have shaped their lives around the Constitution’s protection for their right to make fundamental decisions about their lives, including the right to decide whether to continue a pregnancy. Yet, even as Roe stands, states have found ways to push abortion out of reach.
Restrictions on abortion care disproportionately harm people who already face significant barriers to accessing health care—particularly Black, Indigenous, and people of color and people with low-incomes. If Roe falls, states hostile to abortion rights will move to ban abortion entirely, and the impact will fall hardest on the same people.
Mississippi’s Abortion Ban in the Courts
“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.”
Mississippi’s 15-week ban was signed into law in March 2018 and went into effect immediately. The ban threatens abortion providers with severe penalties for providing abortion care after 15 weeks of pregnancy.
Hours after the ban passed, the Center for Reproductive Rights and its partners filed a lawsuit to block it on behalf of Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the last remaining abortion clinic in Mississippi. The district court granted the Center’s request for an immediate temporary restraining order, blocking the law hours after it took effect, and in November 2018, the district court issued a permanent injunction against it. In December 2019, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the injunction, ruling the law unconstitutional.
Writing for the Fifth Circuit’s three-judge panel, Judge Patrick Higginbotham said: “In an unbroken line dating to Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court’s abortion cases have established (and affirmed, and reaffirmed) a woman’s right to choose an abortion prior to viability. States may regulate abortion procedures prior to viability so long as they do not impose an undue burden on the woman’s right, but they may not ban abortion.”
Mississippi appealed that decision to the Supreme Court in June 2020.
The year after it passed the 15-week ban, Mississippi passed an even more restrictive ban, which prohibits abortion as early as six weeks of pregnancy. That law remains blocked and is not part of the challenge before the Supreme Court.
Mississippi Already Hostile to Abortion Care
Mississippi has some of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country. People seeking abortion care must make two in-person visits to the clinic, delay their abortion by at least 24 hours after the first visit, and endure state-mandated biased counseling. The state also singles out abortion providers with onerous laws designed to shut down abortion clinics, restrict the provision of abortion to physicians only, and ban the use telemedicine for abortion care. For over a decade, Jackson Women’s Health Organization has been the only licensed abortion clinic in the state.
This step-by-step legislative strategy to push abortion out of reach disproportionately harms people who already face significant barriers to accessing health care. Additionally, while enacting numerous abortion restrictions, the state has done little to support people who bear and raise children. Mississippi is ranked last in the United States for the health of women and children, and the state has striking racial disparities in its infant and maternal mortality rates.
- Case background: Jackson Women’s Health Organization v Dobbs
- Press release: Supreme Court to Hear Abortion Ban Case Challenging Roe v. Wade, 05.17.21
- Appeals Court Strikes Down Mississippi 15-Week Abortion Ban, 12.14.19
- Mississippi’s abortion laws
- “What if Roe fell? U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to review Mississippi abortion ban is seen as a test case to overturn Roe v. Wade,” 05.20.21