Supreme Court throws abortion fight into center of midterms

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FILE - In this Oct. 2, 2019. file photo, an abortion opponent sings to herself outside the Jackson Womens Health Organization clinic in Jackson, Miss. The Supreme Court has agreed to hear a potentially ground-breaking abortion case, and the news is energizing activists on both sides of the contentious issue. They're already girding to make abortion access a high-profile issue in next years midterm elections. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis, File)

WASHINGTON – In agreeing to hear a potentially groundbreaking abortion case, the Supreme Court has energized activists on both sides of the long-running debate who are now girding to make abortion access a major issue in next year’s midterm elections.

For many evangelicals, the case could serve as a validation of more than four decades of persistent work and a sometimes awkward relationship with former President Donald Trump, whose three Supreme Court appointments sealed a 6-3 conservative majority. If those justices unite to uphold a Mississippi law banning abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy, it would mark a first step toward the possible demise of the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which established a nationwide right to abortion at any point before a fetus can survive outside the womb, roughly 24 weeks.

Abortion rights advocates, meanwhile, are urgently warning that the case is the biggest threat to decades of rulings that have consistently upheld, with some caveats, a woman's constitutional right to decide whether to end her pregnancy.

Since the Roe decision, abortion has become a defining theme in American politics, emerging as the sole issue that some voters use to assess which candidates they'll support. The Mississippi case could emerge as another turning point — with unpredictable results. Abortion opponents may become further emboldened if their long-desired goal moves closer to reality, while an unfavorable decision could spur supporters to intensify calls for dramatic changes to the judiciary.

For now, both sides say they are fully engaged.

“This is huge — it's saying that for the first time in a long time that we have a pro-life majority on the Supreme Court,” said Katherine Beck Johnson, a lawyer with the conservative Family Research Council. “It will encourage the voting base to get out and vote Republican.”

Jennifer Dalven, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Reproductive Freedom Project, said the high court's decision to hear the case was “really alarming.”

“For more than 40 years the Supreme Court has said states can’t ban abortion prior to viability,” Dalven said. “There is simply no way for the court to rule for Mississippi without gutting Roe v. Wade.”