The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday heard oral arguments on a Mississippi case that could overturn or weaken Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey. At issue in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization is a 2018 Mississippi law that bans nearly all abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. The law was blocked by a federal district court and the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals because, per the decisions in Roe and Casey, states cannot ban abortions before a fetus is viable. The state of Mississippi then asked the Supreme Court to take up the case and overrule those decisions.
Mississippi Solicitor General Scott Stewart argued that questions on abortion should be left up to the people at the state level. Attorneys for the abortion clinic and for the United States each urged the Court to leave the abortion precedents in place, arguing that the viability line was the proper standard.
During questioning, the three liberal justices – Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan – pushed the idea that the Court should follow stare decisis (that courts should uphold prior precedent except under extraordinary circumstances), arguing that a vote to overturn Roe and Casey would be seen as political and hurt the legitimacy of the Supreme Court. While the conservative justices appeared willing to uphold the Mississippi law, it was less clear whether there will be enough votes to overturn Roe and Casey entirely. In particular, Chief Justice John Roberts’ questions focused more on the 15-week ban and current viability standard rather than the issue of overruling Roe and Casey.
In preparation of the oral arguments, Archbishop William Lori, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities issued the following statement:
"In the United States, abortion takes the lives of over 600,000 babies every year. Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health could change that. We pray that the Court will do the right thing and allow states to once again limit or prohibit abortion, and in doing so protect millions of unborn children and their mothers from this painful, life-destroying act. We invite all people of good will to uphold the dignity of human life by joining us in prayer and fasting for this important case.”
A decision in the Dobbs case is expected this summer. For those interested in hearing more about the case, please check out our MCC From the Capitol Podcast episode, The Future of Abortion Law After Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. In this episode, MCC Executive Director Tyler McClay and Legislative Counsel Jamie Morris discuss the case and its implications for the pro-life movement with Tom Buckley, in-house General Counsel for the Archdiocese of St. Louis, and Bill Francis, Director of the Respect Life and Human Rights Office for the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph.