On May 17, 2021, the Supreme Court of the United States agreed to hear Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization when it convenes for its next term October 4, 2021. The annual term for SCOTUS runs October through October.
This case challenges the constitutionality of a Mississippi law prohibiting abortions after the fifteenth week of pregnancy except in cases of medical emergencies or fetal abnormalities.
The U.S. district court held that the law was unconstitutional, and put a permanent stop to its enforcement. On appeal, the 5th Circuit agreed.
The question presented before the Supreme Court regarding this case is “Whether all pre-viability prohibitions on elective abortions are unconstitutional.”
In its landmark 1973 case, Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court recognized a constitutional right to abortion but held that states could prohibit abortion after fetal viability—the point at which a fetus can sustain life outside the uterus. Since then, the Supreme Court has consistently reaffirmed this right while allowing new limits on an individual’s ability to obtain one.
The current U.S. Supreme Court standard holds that states may prohibit abortion after fetal viability so long as there are exceptions for the life and health of the pregnant person. Viability—which can range from 24 to 28 weeks —must be determined on an individual basis.
Legislators across the country in 2021 still had time to try and dismantle women’s reproductive health rights despite other urgent priorities, including the pandemic, vaccination rollout, a struggling economy, systemic racism, and redistricting. The most recent assault on women’s bodies comes out of Texas when on May 19, Gov. Greg Abbott signed the fetal heartbeat abortion bill, banning abortion as early as six weeks. It is scheduled to go into effect Sept. 1.
From 2017 through 2020, 45 states enacted legislation to limit a women’s access to reproductive healthcare. Many of those laws are making their way through the court system.
The last presidential administration was committed to nominating Supreme Court justices who have public record or personal beliefs opposing women’s reproductive health rights. Questions about women’s reproductive health legislation were asked frequently in their confirmation hearings, and the expected answers about handling each case on its own merits were given.
Their appointments may have dramatically shifted the balance of the courts for the next two decades, and in the next Supreme Court term, we will see if they value precedence or fulfill the role of activist judge by putting party ideology or faith before the law.
Pray for the former.