The Biden administration on Monday urged the Supreme Court not to overrule its nearly 50-year precedent granting a woman a right to an abortion in a legal battle over Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban.
In its filing to the high court, the Department of Justice said overruling the 1973 landmark Roe v. Wade decision, which granted a woman a right to an abortion before the fetus is viable, would cause “grave harm to women.” The court later reaffirmed that right decades later in Planned Parenthood v Casey.
“Overruling Roe and Casey at this late date would be a profound disruption. Such a holding would harm women (and their partners) who have ‘organized intimate relationships and made choices that define their views of themselves and their places in society, in reliance on the availability of abortion in the event that contraception should fail,’” the DOJ argued.
The federal government’s brief said changing the court’s precedent could undermine women’s autonomy, especially younger women, women of color, and “those with lesser means.”
Siding with a Mississippi abortion clinic challenging the state law, the administration also requested time during oral arguments on Dec. 1 before the justices to make its points. It’s not unusual for the justices to hear from the federal government in cases throughout the court‘s term.
The Mississippi legal battle will test the court‘s roughly 50-year precedent and it’s potentially the year’s most highly watched case — especially after the justices declined to block a Texas law earlier this month that bans abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected, usually around six weeks of pregnancy.
Mississippi officials argue that Roe v. Wade should be overturned because it’s outdated. The state contends the viability standard set out in Roe is unclear, and the state has an interest in banning abortions after 15 weeks to protect women’s health — and the health of the unborn child.
The lawsuit was brought by Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the state’s only abortion clinic, and a doctor who provides abortions. According to court papers, the clinic provides abortions up to 16 weeks gestation.
They challenged the state’s Gestational Age Act enacted in 2018. The law bans abortions after 15 weeks unless there was a medical emergency or severe abnormality within the fetus.
The abortion providers told the court in its filing that the state’s interest in the woman’s health and child doesn’t begin until viability, which is “months” after the 15-week marker set in the law.
The Justice Department made similar arguments in its brief to the Supreme Court, noting that the district court judge found that viability begins around 23 to 24 weeks, beyond Mississippi’s limit of 15 weeks.
The case will be argued before the high court Dec. 1, and a decision is expected by the end of June next year.