The state of Mississippi on Thursday urged the US Supreme Court in a major case set to be argued in its next term to overturn the landmark 1973 ruling that recognised that women have a constitutional right to obtain an abortion.
Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch, a Republican, said in papers filed with the court that the Roe v Wade ruling and a subsequent 1992 decision that affirmed it were both “egregiously wrong” and that state legislatures should have more leeway to restrict abortion. The court has a 6-3 conservative majority.
The filing marked the first time that Mississippi, in seeking to revive a restrictive state abortion law blocked by lower courts, made overturning Roe v Wade, which legalised abortion nationwide and ended an era in which some states had banned the procedure, a central part of its argument.
“It is time for the court to set this right and return this political debate to the political branches of government,” Ms Fitch added in a statement.
Mississippi is one of numerous Republican-governed states in recent years to have passed ever-more-restrictive abortion laws.
The court in May agreed to take up the Mississippi case and will hear it in its term that begins in October. The justices are likely to hear oral arguments in November, with a ruling due by the end of June 2022.
“If Roe falls, half the states in the country are poised to ban abortion entirely. Women of child-bearing age in the US have never known a world in which they don’t have this basic right, and we will keep fighting to make sure they never will,” said Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, which is among those challenging Mississippi’s law.
Mississippi’s Republican-backed 2018 law bans abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy. Lower courts ruled against the law, which legislators enacted with full knowledge that it was a direct challenge to Roe v Wade.
It has been a longstanding aim of religious conservatives to overturn Roe v Wade, which recognised that a constitutional right to personal privacy protects a woman’s ability to obtain an abortion.
The court in its 1992 decision, Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, reaffirmed the ruling and prohibited laws that place an “undue burden” on a woman’s ability to obtain an abortion.
Roe v Wade said that states could not ban abortion before the viability of the foetus outside the womb, which is generally viewed by doctors as between 24 and 28 weeks.
The Mississippi law would ban abortion much earlier than that. Other states have backed laws that would ban the procedure even earlier.
Abortion opponents are hopeful the Supreme Court will narrow or overturn Roe v Wade. The court’s conservative majority includes the addition last year of Republican former President Donald Trump’s third appointee, Justice Amy Coney Barrett.
She replaced liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, an abortion rights champion who died in September.
After the only abortion clinic in Mississippi, Jackson Women’s Health Organisation, sued to block the 15-week ban, a federal judge in 2018 ruled against the state. The New Orleans-based 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals in 2019 reached the same conclusion.
The Supreme Court in a 5-4 June 2020 ruling struck down a Louisiana law that imposed restrictions on doctors who perform abortions. Justice Ginsburg was still on the court at the time and conservative Chief Justice John Roberts voted with the court’s liberal wing in the ruling.
Justice Roberts, however, made it clear that he voted that way because he felt bound by the court’s 2016 ruling striking down a similar Texas law.