The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to take up a major abortion case that will give it an opportunity to revisit what is arguably the most divisive issue in American politics.
The court announced Monday morning it will hear a case over the constitutionality of Mississippi’s ban on most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy.
The court will likely hear the case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, in October, with a decision likely to come by June 2022, according to CNBC.
The court’s order sets up a showdown over abortion, probably in the fall, with a more conservative court seemingly ready to dramatically alter nearly 50 years of rulings on abortion rights.
The court first announced a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion in the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision and reaffirmed it 19 years later.
The state’s ban had been blocked by lower courts as inconsistent with Supreme Court precedent that protects a woman’s right to obtain an abortion before the fetus can survive outside her womb.
Mississippi is one of five states with only one abortion clinic left operating. It is arguing, according to USA Today, a ban on most abortions after 15 weeks, with exceptions for medical emergencies or fetal abnormalities, would not violate the right to abortion protected by Supreme Court precedents back to 1973.
The state is justifying its ban by arguing a fetus after 15 weeks can feel pain, and an abortion at that stage carries increased medical risks.
Opponents of the law, represented by the Center for Reproductive Rights, said pregnancies at 15 weeks are not viable, so abortions at that stage are permitted by court precedents.
This is the first time the court will take up an abortion case during the tenure of Justice Amy Coney Barrett, who was appointed by then-President Donald Trump to replace the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Last year, the court struck down a Louisiana abortion law, as reported by CBS News, requiring doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals.
The GOP-controlled Mississippi Legislature approved the bill back in 2018.
Under the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling establishing a nationwide right to abortion, states were permitted to restrict abortions after viability — the point when the fetus has a reasonable chance of surviving under normal conditions outside the uterus. The ruling offered no legal definition of viability, saying it could range between 24 and 28 weeks into a pregnancy.
The Mississippi measure “seems like a pretty simple bill designed to test the viability line that the Supreme Court has drawn,” said David Forte, a law professor at Ohio’s Cleveland State University, at the time the bill was passed.
Abortion-rights groups immediately spoke out against the bill, saying it is not legally or medically sound.
“We certainly think this bill is unconstitutional,” said Katherine Klein, equality advocacy coordinator for the American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi. “The 15-week marker has no bearing in science. It’s just completely unfounded and a court has never upheld anything under the 20-week viability marker. We expect that this bill will be challenged in court and it will lose and, in the process, Mississippi will lose thousands upon thousands of taxpayer dollars.”
Anti-abortion groups applauded the measure.
“We’re thrilled that Mississippi lawmakers are taking a step to protect the basic right to life, as well as protecting maternal health,” said Jameson Taylor of the Mississippi Center for Public Policy, which helped craft the bill.
Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood said he expected legal challenges and noted that less-restrictive measures banning abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy have been struck down in other states.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.