Supreme Court to take up major abortion rights challenge

In this June 29, 2020 file photo, the Supreme Court is seen on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
In this June 29, 2020 file photo, the Supreme Court is seen on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court agreed Monday to a showdown over abortion in a case that could dramatically alter nearly 50 years of rulings on abortion rights.

With three justices appointed by President Donald Trump part of a 6-3 conservative majority, the court is taking on a case about whether states can ban abortions before a fetus can survive outside the womb.

Mississippi, which is asking to be allowed to enforce an abortion ban after 15 weeks of pregnancy, is not asking the court to overrule the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision confirming a woman's right to an abortion, or a decision 19 years later that reaffirmed it.

But abortion rights supporters said the case is a clear threat to abortion rights. “The court cannot uphold this law without overturning the principal protections of Roe v. Wade,” Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a call with reporters.

Even if the court does not explicitly overrule earlier cases, a decision favorable to the state could lay the groundwork for allowing even more restrictions on abortion, including state bans on abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected, as early as six weeks.

The case probably will be argued in the fall, with a decision likely in the spring of 2022 during the campaign for congressional midterm elections.

Mississippi’s ban had been blocked by lower courts as inconsistent with Supreme Court precedent that protects a woman’s right to obtain an abortion before the fetus can survive outside her womb.

“States may regulate abortion procedures prior to viability so long as they do not impose an undue burden on the woman's right, but they may not ban abortions. The law at issue is a ban,” Judge Patrick Higginbotham of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals wrote in affirming a lower-court ruling that invalidated the law.