When Will the Supreme Court Issue Its Ruling on Abortion?
The court is poised to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 opinion guaranteeing the right to an abortion.
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The Supreme Court's current session is drawing to a close, and advocates on both sides of the abortion debate are awaiting an opinion in a case that could overturn Roe v. Wade. In early May, a leak of a draft majority opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health indicated the high court was preparing to strike down the 1973 ruling that established a constitutional right to an abortion.
Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health concerns a 2018 Mississippi law that bans most abortions after the first 15 weeks of pregnancy, far earlier than the timeline established by Roe and later cases.
The majority opinion in Roe, written by Justice Harry Blackmun, rested, in part, on the due process clause of the 14th Amendment. Blackmun said the clause included the "right to privacy, including a woman's qualified right to terminate her pregnancy."
In the leaked draft, first reported by Politico, Justice Samuel Alito called Blackmun's take "egregiously wrong from the start."
The draft, which Chief Justice John Roberts confirmed as authentic, wasn't a final ruling. The justices still had the opportunity to change their minds. But the clock is ticking: The court has only a few more days to release more than a dozen rulings.
What is the Mississippi abortion law under consideration?
The court is preparing to issue an official ruling on Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, which addresses the constitutionality of a 2018 Mississippi law banning almost all abortions after the first 15 weeks of pregnancy. That's much shorter than the timeline established by Roe v. Wade and subsequent cases.
The Gestational Age Act, as the measure is known, makes exceptions in cases of a medical emergency or severe fetal abnormality, but not for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest.
After Republican Gov. Phil Bryant signed it into law, Jackson Women's Health Organization, the last state-licensed abortion clinic in Mississippi, challenged the measure almost immediately.
In November 2018, the US District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi ruled in the clinic's favor and, a little more than a year later, the Fifth Circuit unanimously upheld the lower court's decision.
"States may regulate abortion procedures prior to viability so long as they do not impose an undue burden on the woman's right," the Fifth Circuit said, "but they may not ban abortions."
In October 2021, Mississippi brought the case before the Supreme Court, which agreed to hear arguments.
What is Roe v. Wade?
Roe v. Wade is a landmark 1973 Supreme Court ruling that determined a woman has a constitutional right to choose to have an abortion without undue government interference.
A pregnant single woman, using the pseudonym Jane Roe, brought a class action suit challenging a Texas law banning abortion except in cases in which the mother's life was at risk.
In an opinion written by Blackmun, the court determined that laws like the Texas ban violated, among other rights, the due process clause of the 14th Amendment, which protects the "right to privacy, including a woman's qualified right to terminate her pregnancy."
Later cases affirmed the right to an abortion within the first 24 weeks of pregnancy, after which time a fetus is considered viable outside the womb. In 1992's Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the court further determined laws could not impose an "undue burden" on reproductive rights.
Is abortion illegal across the US?
Striking down Roe ends federal protections for abortion and returns the decision to individual states. While that doesn't make abortion illegal nationwide, 26 states have laws restricting or banning abortion that should take effect immediately, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive rights advocacy group.
Some are older measures that have simply been unenforced since 1973, but 13 states have so-called trigger laws that are now in effect.
On May 25, Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt signed what's considered the nation's strictest abortion ban, making the procedure illegal from the earliest moments of pregnancy except to save the life of the mother or in cases of rape or incest reported to law enforcement agencies.
Four states -- Alabama, Louisiana, Tennessee and West Virginia -- have passed amendments explicitly declaring that their state constitution does not secure the right to terminate a pregnancy.
Separately, 16 states and the District of Columbia have passed laws protecting the right to have an abortion in case Roe is overturned.
An interactive Planned Parenthood map indicates the current status of abortion in all 50 states and how access to abortion would likely change in each if Roe v. Wade is overturned.
Who is most impacted by Roe being overturned?
According to a New York Times analysis, 41% percent of women of childbearing age would see their closest abortion clinic close. The average distance they would have to travel to reach one would be almost 280 miles, up from 35 miles now.
Overall, the Times found, the number of legal abortions in the country would fall by at least 13%.
The Center for Reproductive Rights, which is providing legal counsel to the Jackson Women's Health Organization, said in May that if Roe is overturned, marginalized groups include Black, Indigenous and other people of color, immigrants, people with disabilities and the economically disadvantaged "will experience the greatest harms."
In general, women in Republican states, especially those without resources to go elsewhere for services, will be most affected.