Everything you need to know about the case that could overturn Roe v. Wade

The decision on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, expected this summer, could vastly restrict abortion rights in the U.S.

WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 01: Abortion rights advocates demonstrate in front of the Supreme Court of...
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The fate of abortion rights in America hinges on a historic case that the Supreme Court considered today. According to the New York Times, the justices heard two hours of arguments in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, regarding a Mississippi law that bans terminating a pregnancy after 15 weeks — a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade, which deemed that the right to abortion is protected by the Constitution. In short, the case could overturn the nearly half-century-old landmark decision.

Here’s what you need to know about it:

Where do abortion rights currently stand in the U.S.?

In 1973, Roe v. Wade established the absolute right to end a pregnancy in the first trimester, per the BBC, and limited rights in the second trimester. About 20 years later, the Supreme Court ruled in Planned Parenthood v. Casey that states couldn’t put an “undue burden” on those seeking abortions before fetal viability, or the point at which fetuses can survive outside the womb — around 23 or 24 weeks. Every Supreme Court decision on abortion has upheld the core tenets of Roe, until now, NPR said.

What is the Mississippi law?

In the 2018, Mississippi passed a law that would prohibit most abortions after 15 weeks, even from pregnancies caused by incest or rape, the BBC explained. A challenge by Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the state’s sole abortion provider, has prevented the law from being enforced. The Supreme Court heard arguments for the case earlier today.

Per NPR, Mississippi argues that the Roe and Casey decisions were fundamentally undemocratic. Abortion “needs to be given back to the states,” State Attorney General Lynn Fitch told the Explicitly Pro-Life podcast.

What could happen if the Supreme Court rules in favor of the Mississippi law?

It could overturn Roe v. Wade, or at least limit its reach, according to Axios. If the justices do overturn Roe, states would be able to set their own abortion laws, the BBC explained, including bans before the fetal viability threshold. Nearly half of states are predicted to introduce bans, some potentially even more draconian than Mississippi’s.

A dozen states, such as Louisiana and Oklahoma, have already passed what are known as “trigger laws,” which would immediately ban abortion in the event that the Supreme Court overturns Roe, per Axios. Some states, including Alabama and Ohio, could revive unconstitutional abortion bans passed after the 1973 decision, while others, like Florida and Montana, could quickly ban or restrict abortion.

All told, nearly half of 18- to 49-year-olds with uteruses in the US could lose access to abortion if the Supreme Court overturns Roe, per Planned Parenthood. Black, Latinx, and Indigenous pregnant people, already harmed by abortion restrictions, would be especially impacted.

How could the Supreme Court rule?

According to the BBC, the justices could 1) overturn Roe; 2) rule that the Mississippi law doesn’t place “an undue burden” on those seeking abortions, which would undermine Roe but leave it alone; or 3) rule against the Mississippi law, keeping Roe in place.

As NPR pointed out, Justices Sandra Day O’Connor, Anthony Kennedy, and David Souter, who reaffirmed Roe in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, were centrist conservatives. But now, the Supreme Court has a supermajority of six, way more conservative justices who have historically ruled against abortion rights.

In other words, it’s very possible that the Supreme Court could overturn Roe v. Wade. But Katherine Franke, director of the center for gender and sexuality law at Columbia University, told the BCC that she believes a more likely outcome is the Supreme Court ruling in favor of the Mississippi law while allowing Roe and Casey to stand. Jackson Women’s Health Organization pointed out that such a decision would still amount to overturning past Supreme Court abortion rulings by doing away with the fetal viability standard, though. Per the Times, the Supreme Court’s final ruling is due next June or July.