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Supreme Court Schedules Hearing On Abortion Case; How Will It Impact A Louisiana Ban?

Abortion rights supporters outside the U.S. Supreme Court on March 4, 2020, for oral arguments in June Medical Services v. Russo.
Rosemary Westwood
Abortion rights supporters outside the U.S. Supreme Court on March 4, 2020, for oral arguments in June Medical Services v. Russo.

The U.S. Supreme Court has announced it will hear arguments in December in a case that could see the court overturn or functionally gut Roe v. Wade — the Supreme Court precedent that established constitutional abortion rights — and simultaneously let a restrictive abortion ban take effect in Louisiana.

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The case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, is a direct challenge to over four decades of Supreme Court precedent upholding a constitutional right to an abortion before a fetus is viable — that is, able to live outside the womb, typically considered at around 24 weeks of pregnancy.

The case centers on a 15-week abortion ban passed in Mississippi in 2018. In taking the case, the court has agreed to consider whether all pre-viability bans are unconstitutional, meaning it has decided to reconsider a foundational finding of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 ruling that established abortion rights, and possibly overturn it.

The case could open the floodgates to other abortion bans early in pregnancy, but the stakes are particularly high in Mississippi and in Louisiana, where politicians have also passed a 15-week ban that will take effect if Mississippi’s is upheld.

Neither law allows exceptions for survivors of rape or incest.

The arguments will come after Texas enacted a law banning abortions at about 6 weeks of pregnancy, when many women don’t yet know they’re pregnant. Other 6-week bans have been passed in various states, including Louisiana, but they’ve all been blocked from taking effect by federal courts because they directly contradict the viability standard set out in Roe v. Wade.

What makes Texas’s SB 8 novel is that it uses civil courts to enforce the ban, allowing any person to sue abortion providers and those who help women obtain an abortion. That created a mechanism that complicated oversight by federal courts. Texas’s law similarly does not allow exceptions for rape and incest victims, and Gov. Greg Abbott justified the provision by stating the state will “eliminate” rape.

Conservative justices now dominate the Supreme Court 6-3, after Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died last year and was replaced by Metairie native Justice Amy Coney Barrett. She is considered the key vote to gutting or overturningRoe v. Wade, something the conservative Chief Justice John Roberts has actively avoided in past cases, including Louisiana’s abortion Supreme Court case in favor of abortion clinics decided last year. He also voted to prevent Texas’s 6-week ban from taking effect, but was overruled by his conservative colleagues 5-4.

Rosemary Westwood is the public and reproductive health reporter for WWNO/WRKF. She was previously a freelance writer specializing in gender and reproductive rights, a radio producer, columnist, magazine writer and podcast host.

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