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Supreme Court abortion case: Sotomayor grills Mississippi on ‘stench’ of politics in landmark hearing

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David Taintor,Alex Woodward
Wednesday 01 December 2021 21:03
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Watch live as Supreme Court hears arguments in pivotal Mississippi abortion case

The US Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a landmark abortion case out of Mississippi, which seeks to overturn the high court’s landmark Roe v Wade ruling which cemented abortion rights in the country in 1973.

Conservative justices signalled their likelihood to uphold the Mississippi law at the centre of the case, which bans abortions after 15 weeks. The Supreme Court’s ruling isn’t expected until June 2022.

Overturning Roe would immediately or quickly ban most abortions in more than 20 states, forcing women who can afford it to travel hundreds of miles to safely access care.

Members of Congress joined hundreds of abortion rights activists and anti-abortion demonstrators who braved a chilly Washington DC morning to rally outside the court on Wednesday. US Capitol Police arrested at least 33 people for obstructing traffic near the court.

In her opening remarks, Justice Sonia Sotomayor grilled Mississippi solicitor general Scott Stewart about the overt politics of the abortion case before them, despite 50 years of precedent.

She added: “Now the sponsors of this bill ... are saying, ‘We’re doing this because we have new justices on the Supreme Court’. Will this institution survive the stench that this creates in the public perception that the Constitution and its reading are just political acts?”

“If people believe it’s all political, how will we survive? How will the court survive?” she said.

Justices repeatedly returned to the question of fetal viability outside the womb, at around 24 weeks of pregnancy and a barrier against prohibitive laws established under Roe precedent and later affirmed in Planned Parenthood v Casey.

After nearly two hours of arguments, the Supreme Court’s six conservative justices appeared willing to undermine such precedents.

Follow for live updates as they happened

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Oral arguments begin at 10am ET

Good morning and welcome to The Independent’s live blog. Oral arguments in the Mississippi case are set to begin at 10am ET.

David Taintor1 December 2021 13:23
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Abortion rights at stake

My colleague Maya Oppenheim takes a look at what’s at stake in today’s oral arguments:

Tarah Demant, Amnesty International USA’s Interim Senior Director of Programmes, told The Independent maternal deaths will greatly rise if Roe v Wade is overturned due to women being forced to resort to dangerous backstreet abortions.

She said: “We anticipate a further erosion of the right to abortion. This will have an enormous impact on the rights and lives of many. This means a huge uptick in unsafe abortions and a huge uptick in women being forced to carry unwanted pregnancies to term.

“Ultimately what this means is not just a total roll back of abortion for a huge population of the US but a health crisis.”

Read her full report here:

Legal right to abortion in US faces direct challenge at Supreme Court

‘This means a huge uptick in unsafe abortions and a huge uptick in women being forced to carry unwanted pregnancies to term,’ says Amnesty International spokesperson

David Taintor1 December 2021 14:01
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Abortion advocates rally outside the Supreme Court: ‘Keep these bans off our bodies’

Abortion advocates are holding a rally outside the US Supreme Court to support abortion providers and the right to abortion care, with the high court set to hear arguments in a Mississippi case that blocks almost all abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

Shannon Brewer, clinic director Jackson Women’s Health, the only remaining abortion clinic in Mississippi, was emotional as she addressed the crowd. The clinic is at the centre of the Mississippi case, Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Organization.

“Now it’s our turn to fight for our children,” she said.

Amy Hagstrom Miller, CEO of Whole Woman’s Health, which operates four abortion clinics in Texas, said 2021 “has been an unprecedented ambush on abortion rights.” The clinic also is at the centre of another suit at the Supreme Court over a draconian anti-abortion law in Texas.

“Meaningful access to abortion care in the US depends on independent abortion providers,” she said.

Texas is also among 12 states with so-called “trigger laws” that would ban abortion should Roe be overturned, and is one of 26 states that is likely to ban abortion quickly should that power return to states.

“Not on our watch. Keep these bans off our bodies,” Hagstrom Miller said.

“Together we will reclaim the power and compassion of abortion care,” she said. “Never forget we are the majority and we stand in the light.”

Alex Woodward1 December 2021 14:13
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Members of Congress rally for abortion rights, demand lawmakers codify Roe precedent into law

US Reps Dianne DeGette and Barbara Lee joined abortion rights advocates rallying outside the Supreme Court on Wednesday to slam “extremist” anti-abortion laws in states and urge lawmakers to preserve the constitutional right to abortion care through established law.

“They’re not going to stop anyone from having sex. Abortion is an essential part of healthcare,” Rep DeGette said. “Keep abortion decisions out of the hands of politicians. Keep abortion decisions in the hands of American citizens.”

Lawmakers have introduced the Women’s Health Protection Act, which would prohibit states from interfering with reproductive health services.

“I am one in one-in-four women who have had an abortion,” Rep Lee said.

“I survived. Many women did not survive, especially Black women,” she said. “We cannot and will not go back to those days. ... Every person should have the freedom to decide how to control their bodies and their lives.”

Alex Woodward1 December 2021 14:20
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Congresswoman Jayapal: ‘Do not criminalise the choices we make about our own bodies and our future'

US Rep Pramila Jayapal, chair of the House progressive caucus, and one of several members of Congress who have publicly discussed their abortion experience, joined abortion rights advocates outside the Supreme Court on Wednesday.

“For me terminating my pregnancy was not an easy choice. But it was my choice,” she said.

She urged the Senate to amend the filibuster to allow passage of the Women’s Health Protection Act, which would prohibit states from interfering with reproductive health services.

Restrictive abortion laws are “not about healthcare,” she said. “This is about controlling our bodies. It’s all about control.”

“Do not criminalise me and millions of women like me across the country,” she said. “Do not criminalise those that help us. … Do not criminalise the choices we make about our own bodies and our future.”

Alex Woodward1 December 2021 14:26
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Dozens of doctors and health workers issue letter to protect abortion rights

A group of more than 250 doctors and health workers have demanded the US Supreme Court protect abortion rights and uphold the landmark precedent set with Roe v Wade, which effectively enshrined the constitutional right to abortion and struck down anti-abortion laws across the US.

The letter from Committee to Protect Health Care – issued as the nation’s high court prepared to hear arguments in one of the most important abortion rights cases in decades – stressed that abortion access remains “an essential element of medical care.”

“Patients may need an abortion because of pregnancy complications that endanger their health,” the letter reads. “Forcing people with chronic illnesses, following a miscarriage, or after a serious medical condition diagnosis to carry a pregnancy to term against their will could have life-threatening consequences.”

The letter strikes at state laws that “prevent doctors and health professionals from helping our patients who are seeking our counsel, regardless of the reason they may seek an abortion, be it that they have a pregnancy complication, a health or mental health condition, or that they just do not want to be pregnant now,” the letter says.

Alex Woodward1 December 2021 15:07
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Clarence Thomas asks first question as hearing is underway

As arguments begin, Justice Clarence Thomas posed the first question, noting that abortion cases before the Supreme Court have largely focused on “privacy and autonomy” rather than abortion specifically.

“Does it make a difference that we focus on privacy and autonomy, or more specifically on abortion?” he asked.

He asked that, should the court overturn Roe, what other standard is there other than the “undue burden standard” established in 1997 by Planned Parenthood v Casey, a separate decision that bolstered the right to an abortion.

Alex Woodward1 December 2021 15:21
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Sotomayor grills Mississippi on ‘stench’ of politics in case

In her opening remarks, Justice Sonia Sotomayor grilled Mississippi solicitor general Scott Stewart about the overt politics of the abortion case before them, despite more than a dozen justices over 30 years affirming Roe and Casey.

She added: “Now the sponsors of this bill ... are saying, ‘We’re doing this because we have new justices on the Supreme Court’. Will this institution survive the stench that this creates in the public perception that the Constitution and its reading are just political acts?”

“If people believe it’s all political, how will we survive? How will the court survive?” she said.

Alex Woodward1 December 2021 15:27
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Sotomayor: ‘When does the right of a woman and putting her at risk enter the calculus?'

Justice Sotomayor, probing Mississippi, asked “when does the right of a woman and putting her at risk enter the calculus” when determining law.

“Right now, forcing women who are poor, and that’s 75 per cent of the population, and much higher percentage of those women in Mississippi, who elect abortions before viability – they are put at much greater risk of medical complications,” she said.

She added: “And now the state is saying to these women, ‘we can choose not only to physically complicate your existence … make you poorer by the choice, because we believe...,’ what?”

Alex Woodward1 December 2021 15:39
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How will the court treat precedent and ‘stare decisis’?

Justices keep returning to discussions of precedent and the court’s “stare decisis”, which Justice Elena Kagan said is to “prevent people from thinking that this court is a political institution that will go back and forth” depending on who “yells the loudest”.

For the court to overturn precedent, “usually there has to be ... strong justification,” she said.

Alex Woodward1 December 2021 15:43

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