Supreme Court hears a Mississippi case that could end abortion rights in the U.S.

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Supreme Court hears a Mississippi case that could end abortion rights in the U.S.



A case that aims to reverse the landmark Roe v Wade ruling that legalized abortion in the U.S. is set to begin oral arguments on December 1st in the U.S. supreme court. The final decision will in the summer of 2022. 

The U.S. Supreme Court’s conservatives suggested they are poised to curb abortion rights and uphold Mississippi’s ban on the procedure after 15 weeks of pregnancy. In an argument that lasted almost two hours, all six conservative justices indicated they would let states start banning abortion far earlier than the court’s precedents have previously allowed. The right-wing Trump appointed judge Kavanaugh, previously accused of sexual assault, failed to hide his lack of neutrality and is eager to overturn Roe V Wade. At least 33 human rights defenders were arrested for blocking Constitution Avenue following the wrap-up of oral arguments for the Mississippi challenge against Roe v. Wade. 

 

 

According to the 1973 Roe decision, access to safe and legal abortion is a U.S. constitutional right. The U.S. court ruled that states could not ban abortion before a fetus can survive outside the womb – 24 weeks gestation (a full-term pregnancy is considered to be 39 weeks). The ruling has saved countless lives over the decades. It has also been challenged by self-proclaimed pro-life individuals through misogynist protests and legislation. They have even murdered doctors who perform abortions. Now that Dobbs v Jackson Women's Health Clinic has been directly challenged, the supreme court must decide if the U.S. state of Mississippi can ban nearly all abortions from 15 weeks. If the supreme court were to overturn Roe v Wade, at least 26 U.S. states that oppose women's reproductive rights would ban abortion immediately or as soon as possible. The state of Louisiana has already passed a trigger law designed to outlaw abortion if Roe is overturned.

More than 250 doctors and medical professionals from across the United States signed an open letter organized by the Committee to Protect Health Care, urging the courts and policymakers to uphold Roe v Wade and protect the rights & health of women. According to the letter, “Patients may need an abortion because of pregnancy complications that endanger their health,” “Forcing people with chronic illnesses, following a miscarriage, or after a serious medical condition diagnosis to carry a pregnancy to term against their will could have life-threatening consequences.”

While women with better resources and wealth would be able to obtain abortions in neighboring states legally, those who are poor, young, and of minority communities are more likely to turn to illegal methods. Poverty and racism mixed with criminalizing personal healthcare decisions would create a future in which women are mass incarcerated on an unprecedented scale. According to the U.S. criminal defense attorney Lindsay A Lewis, “States are laying the groundwork now, and have been laying the groundwork for criminal penalties that are completely different,” than the pre-Roe era. “They are so much more advanced, and so much harsher than what existed before Roe was enacted.”

Already in several places across the United States, misogynist lawmakers and law enforcement have targeted vulnerable and pregnant women, jailing them for having miscarriages. Recently an Oklahoma jury convicted a Native American woman of manslaughter for miscarrying a pregnancy after 15-17 gestational weeks. She's one of 57 cases documented in the state since 2006 and 1,200 in the United States. In one California county, two women were jailed for allegedly killing their babies after experiencing stillbirths and allegedly testing positive for illicit drugs. Murder charges against one of the mothers were dropped in 2021 after she spent a year-and-a-half in jail because she could not make a $2m bail. Meanwhile, another mother is a third of the way through an 11-year sentence for manslaughter after she pleaded guilty to avoid the harsher charge of murder. She is currently trying to appeal.

The two women were prosecuted under "foetal assault laws," which exist in at least 38 states across the U.S. According to a 2012 survey, about 6% of U.S. pregnant women admit to using illicit drugs, while 8.5% drink alcohol and 16% smoke cigarettes. The "foetal assault laws," claim to be focused on preventing the use of narcotics during pregnancy but are written vaguely enough that other factors such as falling or speeding could trigger severe punishment. In countries where abortions are illegal, women have been tormented, arrested, and charged with murder for having a miscarriage. Authorities tend to accuse women of deliberately terminating their pregnancy with no evidence to back up their claims. The U.S. criminalization of abortion and miscarriages paints a slippery slope where women seeking medical attention could be jailed for situations outside of their control. In a brief to the U.S. supreme court, the United Nations special rapporteur on the right to health warned that overturning Roe v Wade and banning or criminalizing abortion would be “irreconcilable” with international human rights laws. 

Even so, some states have already instituted bans, such as Texas, which banned the vast majority of abortions. In a country rife with misogyny, often coded into legislation, women face an uncertain future.