What is Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Organization? How one Mississippi lawsuit overturned abortion rights

One case threatens a landmark Supreme Court decision

<p>Pro-choice activists are seen outside of the US Supreme Court</p>

Pro-choice activists are seen outside of the US Supreme Court

The Supreme Court sent shockwaves through the country by striking down the constitutional protections that ensured women’s right to an abortion.

The June 24 ruling was expected after Politico in May published a draft opinion, leaked from the court itself, that appeared to indicate a decision ending the federally guaranteed right to abortion in America.

At the centre of the ruling over abortion rights is Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a case out of Mississippi that directly challenges the precdedent set by the court in Roe vs Wade, a landmark decision which first established the idea that abortion was a inherent right due to its nature as a medical practice necessary in some cases to save the life of a person.

The Supreme Court is due to release its official decision on the matter any day now. For weeks, Supreme Court justices have condemned the leak of the draft opinion which it has stressed is not finalised, all the while appearing on the verge of making one of the most dramatic rollbacks of precedent in its history.

Let’s take a look at the key players in this Mississippi case and how we got to this precipice:

Jackson Women’s Health Organization

Fighting a lonely battle for abortion rights in Mississippi is the state’s sole abortion provider, Jackson Women’s Health Organization, located in the state’s capital. The facility filed suit against Mississippi in 2020 after lawmakers passed a restrictive ban on abortions after 15 weeks into the pregnancy which does not include exceptions for rape or incest.

The clinic became the state’s last abortion provider in 2006 when its only fellow provider closed for good; it has since faced episodes of vandalism and other threats from anti-abortion activists.

Thomas Dobbs

The namesake of the case who may see his surname synonymous with the end of federally protected abortion rights in America, Thomas Dobbs currently serves as the chief health officer for the state of Mississippi.

Mr Dobbs himself is not a vocal supporter of the legislation, as he is not a political candidate for office. The bill’s most ardent supporters are lawmakers including Tate Reeves, the state’s GOP governor.

“If you believe, as I believe very strongly, that innocent unborn child in the mother’s womb is, in fact, a child, the most important word when we talk about unborn children is not unborn, but it’s children,” the governor said in an interview about the ban on CNN. “And so, yes, I will do everything I can to protect the lives of those children.”

Why is the case so significant?

The battle over abortion rights in America has been waged for decades, but this latest push by Mississsippi has now achieved success that for the anti-abortion movement was unthinkable just a few years ago. How did that happen?

The answer is twofold: First, much of the credit (or blame) resides with Donald Trump, who oversaw a massive rightward shift of the Supreme Court under his presidency. Three justices were appointed to the Supreme Court under Mr Trump’s one term in office, culminating in a conservative majority that is as strong as 6-3 on some cases.

Second, the lawsuit itself represents a direct challenge to the Roe precedent; unlike a bill passed by lawmakers in Texas that created a sort of bounty system for civilian enforcement of its abortion ban, the appeal filed by Mississippi directly calls on the court to overturn the precedent set in Roe v Wade, which guarantees abortion as a right until the point of fetal viability. Mississippi’s ban would take effect far before the fetus is viable in a pregnancy.

All in all, the overturning of Roe v Wade would mean one of the most dramatic reversals of constitutional rights in US history and threatens to throw state political landscapes into chaos as lawmakers are suddenly forced with the prospect of deciding what the standard for abortion rights should be in their individual communitites.

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