WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The conservative-majority U.S. Supreme Court is expected to decide in coming weeks to dramatically restrict abortion rights when it rules on a Mississippi case, potentially paving the way for about half of the 50 states Americans prohibiting or severely restricting the procedure.
Here’s a summary of what’s at stake and how the court could rule in the decision expected in early July:
WHAT IS THE PRECEDENT?
The Roe v. Wade’s 1973 which the court could overturn in the pending case concluded that the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution provides a fundamental right to privacy that protects a woman’s right to an abortion.
The high court reaffirmed the right to abortion in the 1992 decision Planned Parenthood v. Casey, that abortion restrictions cannot impose an “undue burden” on the right and most recently in 2016, when the court struck down a Texas law that would have imposed non-responsiveness to clinics and doctors who perform abortions.
The Roe and Casey decisions determined that states cannot prohibit abortion until a fetus is viable outside the womb, generally considered by doctors to be between 24 and 28 weeks.
WHAT IS THE CASE CURRENTLY BEFORE THE COURT?
The nine justices are weighing whether to reinstate Mississippi’s abortion ban from 15 weeks of pregnancy, a law blocked by lower courts as clearly in violation of Roe v. Wade.
Mississippi attorneys urged the court, which has a 6-3 conservative majority, to overrule Roe altogether. In May, a leaked draft opinion by Conservative Justice Samuel Alito suggested there was a majority to take that step. The court said in a statement announcing an investigation into the leak that the project was not the court’s final word.
HOW COULD THE TRIBUNAL RULE?
Based on oral arguments in December, it emerged that the conservative majority leaned towards keeping the Mississippi law, which would at least oust Roe’s central holding which said states could not ban pre-viability of abortion.
The leaked draft opinion said the court could completely overrule Roe v. Wade. In either scenario, states that want to restrict or ban abortion would have much more leeway to do so, even if a complete reversal of Roe would make it easier for them.
A scenario in which the court strikes down the Mississippi law doesn’t seem likely, with the three liberal justices having no potential allies among the conservative justices.
COULD THERE BE A COMPROMISE?
It seems unlikely that a compromise that would meaningfully protect abortion rights is in the cards.
During oral argument, Chief Justice John Roberts seemed interested in a ruling that would uphold Mississippi law, allowing states to ban abortions before viability, without overriding Roe altogether, but his fellow conservatives did not seem receptive.
WHY DID THE COURT CHANGE TAPE ON ABORTION?
Personnel changes on the Supreme Court, creating a rock-solid conservative majority, changed the trajectory of abortion rights. For years, the court had a 5-4 conservative majority that included moderates like Justice Anthony Kennedy and Justice Sandra Day O’Connor who voted to uphold abortion rights.
That all changed with Republican Donald Trump’s four-year presidency, whose three appointees tilted the court further to the right.
Trump’s nominations – Neil Gorsuch in 2017, Brett Kavanaugh in 2018 and Amy Coney Barrett in 2020 – are all likely to be in the majority if the court overturns Roe.
WHAT ARE THE IMPLICATIONS IF THE COURT VOIDS THE ROEs?
If Roe were canceled or limited, many women in the United States who wish to terminate a pregnancy might have the choice of having a potentially dangerous illegal abortion, traveling to another state where the procedure remains legal and available, or to buy abortion pills online. The procedure would remain legal in liberal-leaning states, more than a dozen of which have laws protecting the right to abortion.
Mississippi is among 13 states with so-called trigger laws designed to ban abortion if Roe is overturned. A total of 26 states would act quickly to restrict access to abortion, according to the Guttmacher Institute, an abortion rights research group.
Some legal experts have said a decision overturning Roe could jeopardize other freedoms related to marriage, sexuality and family life, including birth control and same-sex marriage.
(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley and Andrew Chung; editing by Grant McCool)