Mississippi’s Gestational Age Act, passed in 2018 but blocked by two federal courts, allows abortion after 15 weeks “only in medical emergencies or for severe fetal abnormality” and has no exception for rape or incest. If doctors perform abortions outside the parameters of the law they will have their medical licenses suspended or revoked and may be subject to additional penalties and fines.
Roe v. Wade is the 1973 landmark Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion nationwide prior to viability, which can occur at around 24 weeks of pregnancy.
In a brief filed in July, Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch, a Republican, argued that Roe v. Wade was “egregiously wrong” and should be overturned.
“The conclusion that abortion is a constitutional right has no basis in text, structure, history, or tradition” Fitch told the justices.
Fitch said the case for overturning Roe is “overwhelming.”
The Mississippi case — the most important set of abortion-related oral arguments the court has heard since 1992 — comes as states across the country, emboldened by the conservative majority and the addition of Justice Amy Coney Barrett to the high court, are increasingly passing restrictive abortion-related regulations, hoping to curb the constitutional right first established in 1973 in Roe and reaffirmed in 1992 when the court handed down Planned Parenthood v. Casey.
The justices deliberated for months whether to take up the Mississippi dispute, finally announcing their decision last spring and sending shockwaves through groups supporting abortion rights, who are fearful that the conservative majority — bolstered with three of former President Donald Trump’s appointees — will upend long-established constitutional protections for access to abortion.
A district court blocked the law in a decision affirmed by a federal appeals court.
“In an unbroken line dating to Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court’s abortion cases have established (and affirmed and re-affirmed) a woman’s right to choose an abortion before viability,” a panel of judges on the 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals said in December 2019. “States may regulate abortion procedures prior to viability so long as they do not ban abortions,” the court held and concluded that “the law at issue is a ban.”
This story has been updated with additional background information.