By Roya Statler
New York City, New York
On January 22nd, 1973, the United States Supreme Court issued a landmark decision in the case Roe v. Wade which ruled that the Constitution protects a pregnant woman’s right to obtain an abortion without excessive government restriction. Over the course of the past five decades, this case has been at the forefront of the political scene, particularly in the past two and a half years, with many states in the south and midwest passing restrictions on abortion access.
In 2018, former Governor Phil Bryant of Mississippi passed a law that bans abortion access after 15 weeks of pregnancy, approximately nine weeks before the limit placed in Roe v. Wade. The bill, called the ‘Gestational Age Act’, permits abortion access only in cases of a medical emergency or extreme fetal abnormality. On the day this bill was signed into law in 2018, Mississippi’s sole abortion provider, the Jackson Women’s Health Organization filed a suit challenging the law and requested emergency injunctive relief. The following day, a hearing was held at a district court which granted an injunction halting the state from enforcing the bill. The court then decided that the ‘Gestational Age Act’ was unconstitutional; states may not ban abortion prior to viability.
In June 2020, Mississippi appealed the district court’s decision to the Supreme Court. In their appeal, Mississippi asked the Court allow their restrictive abortion bill to become law, an act which would thereby reverse the decision in Roe v. Wade. In May 2021 the majority conservative Supreme Court agreed to hear the case: Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. Oral arguments for the case were heard on December 1, 2021 and the Supreme Court is expected to finalize and release its decision in June 2022.
In the past few years, Republican-led states have challenged Roe v. Wade by passing laws severely restricting abortion access. Many of these laws have been quickly shut down by federal courts because of their apparent incompatibility with the standard set by Roe v. Wade. In most cases, the incentive behind these laws is to reach the Supreme Court and, ultimately, to challenge and overturn Roe v. Wade. The Supreme Court’s current 6:3 conservative majority suggests that the likelihood of Roe’s overruling is probable.