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

Follow the latest from the Supreme Court

David Taintor,Alex Woodward
Wednesday 01 December 2021 21:03 GMT
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


Breaking: Supreme Court appears likely to uphold Mississippi abortion law after arguments in landmark case

The US Supreme Court appears poised to uphold a Mississippi law that bans abortions after 15 weeks of becoming pregnant.

The nine justices presided over roughly two hours of arguments in a major case that could determine the fate of abortion access for millions of Americans, marking the biggest direct challenge to the landmark ruling in Roe v Wade that enshrined the constitutional right to such medical care.

Conservative justices now hold a majority on the nation’s high court after former President Donald Trump appointed three justices. A decision in the case is expected by June 2022.

That potential outcome would contradict the 1973 decision in Roe that established a constitutional right to an abortion and prohibited states from banning the procedure before fetal viability at roughly 23 weeks.

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

Supreme Court appears likely to uphold Mississippi abortion law in major case

The US Supreme Court appears poised to uphold a Mississippi law that bans abortions after 15 weeks of becoming pregnant.

Alex Woodward1 December 2021 18:10

Capitol Police make arrests near Supreme Court

US Capitol Police arrested 33 people for “Crowding, Obstructing or Incommoding” along Constitution Avenue during abortion rights and anti-abortion demonstrations near the Supreme Court, police said in a statement on Wednesday.

“This does not affect the lawful demonstrators who are in front of the US Supreme Court,” the statement said.

Police said they gave “roughly 40 demonstrators” a series of three warnings before making arrests.

Alex Woodward1 December 2021 18:28

What do most Americans think of abortion access?

Public opinion on abortion care is largely in direct contrast to stringent laws that ban most abortions.

A majority of Americans (61 per cent) believe that abortion should be legal in all or most cases, according to Pew Research Center. Another Pew survey from 2019 found that 59 per cent of Americans say they are more concerned about states making it too difficult to access abortion care.

But in seven states that have sought near-total bans on abortion, slim majorities there believe abortion “should be illegal in all or most cases,” according to Pew.

Alex Woodward1 December 2021 18:46

Biden: ‘I support Roe v Wade'

Joe Biden was asked by a reporter during a briefing on Wednesday whether the administration intends to codify in law the abortion precedent established by Roe v Wade following a Supreme Court hearing that signals dramatic changes to abortion access in the US.

“First of all ... I didn’t see any of the debate today,” he said.

He added: “I support Roe v Wade, I think it’s a rational position to take and I continue to support that right.”

Alex Woodward1 December 2021 18:56

Can Congress preserve abortion rights?

In September, the Democratically controlled US House of Representatives passed the Women’s Health Protection Act, which aims to protect the right to choose to continue or end a pregnancy, and it would enshrine into law health providers’ ability to offer abortion services prior to fetal viability without state-level barriers, like bans that seek to prohibit most abortions, or requirements for waiting periods or hospital admitting privileges for providers.

President Joe Biden’s administration “strongly supports” the bill and its passage, which followed the Supreme Court allowing a near-total ban on abortions in Texas from going into effect.

The administration has supported congressional efforts to codify the precedent established by Roe v Wade, and members of Congress have repeatedly called on lawmakers to pass such legislation.

“In the wake of Texas’ unprecedented attack, it has never been more important to codify this constitutional right and to strengthen health care access for all women, regardless of where they live,” a White House statement said in September.

The statement continued: “The constitutional rights of women are essential to the health, safety, and progress of our nation. Our daughters and granddaughters deserve the same rights that their mothers and grandmothers fought for and won –and that a clear majority of the American people support. We will not allow this country to go backwards on women’s equality.”

But a Senate version of the bill is likely to languish in that chamber – the bill would likely face yet another Republican filibuster, with legislation requiring 60 votes to advance to the floor for a vote. The Senate is currently evenly divided.

Alex Woodward1 December 2021 19:46

If Roe falls, ‘the people who need the access the most would be losing it’ advocates say

Shannon Brewer, director of Jackson Women’s Health Center, which is at the centre of the Mississippi case in front of the US Supreme Court, said a potential reversal of Roe would devastate the largely low-income patients in the state, who would be forced to travel thousands of miles for abortion care.

“I’m sure some women would go somewhere else but the women we see barely make it here, and they live in the state,” she told reporters in a briefing following today’s arguments.. “They can’t afford to jump on an airplane and fly somewhere. They can’t afford to spend two or three thousand dollars and get a hotel out of state.”

She added: “In Mississippi, where healthcare is already the worst, our education is already one of the worst, you can’t take stuff away from people and expect the situation to be better.”

Nancy Northrup, CEO Center for Reproductive Rights, which is leading the litigation, said if Roe falls, “the people who need the access the most would be losing it.”

“The US would be very out of step globally toward the trend of liberalising abortion,” she said.

“You cannot expect a good outcome from this,” Ms Brewer said, “When it gets worse, who’s going to raise their hand and take blame for it then?”

Alex Woodward1 December 2021 20:43

Thanks for following today’s live coverage. Stay tuned with The Independent.

Alex Woodward1 December 2021 20:50

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