By Lucia Leal
Washington, Dec 1 (EFE).- The questions and comments from the justices as the United States Supreme Court heard arguments Wednesday on a challenge to a Mississippi law barring most abortions after the 15th week of pregnancy appeared to signal that the conservative majority will allow the controversial measure to stand.
What remains unclear, however, is whether five of the six conservative justices on the nine-member court are ready to take the additional step of overturning the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that made abortion legal nationwide.
The law enacted by Mississippi in 2018 would prohibit abortions after 15 weeks with exceptions only for medical emergencies or severe fetal abnormality.
Lower federal courts sided with Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the state’s only abortion clinic, by finding that the legislation violated the principles laid down in Roe v. Wade and the Supreme Court’s 1992 decision in Planned Parenthood v. Casey.
The 1992 ruling permits states to restrict abortion, provided the restrictions do not place an “undue burden” on women, and that they do not forbid termination before fetal viability.
Mississippi appealed to the Supreme Court and the justices agreed to consider the case.
The nation’s highest court is not expected to issue its ruling until June 2022.
In his exchanges with the respective counsel, Chief Justice John Roberts seemed to be seeking a way to uphold the Mississippi law without overturning Roe v. Wade.
He asserted that questions about fetal viability, generally held to begin at the 24th week of pregnancy, has no bearing on a woman’s right to choose.
“Viability, it seems to me, doesn’t have anything to do with choice. If it really is an issue about choice, why is 15 weeks not enough time?” Roberts asked Julie Rikelman, the lawyer representing the abortion clinic.
Speaking for Mississippi, state solicitor general Scott Stewart urged the Supreme Court to overturn both Roe and Casey.
“They have no basis in the Constitution. They have no home in our history or traditions. They’ve damaged the democratic process. They’ve poisoned the law. They’ve choked off compromise,” he said.
Mississippi is one of a dozen states with “trigger laws” making all abortions illegal that would take effect automatically if Roe v. Wade were overturned.
In all, states that are home to around half the US population of women of reproductive age would likely outlaw abortion if Roe were struck down, according to Planned Parenthood.
In behalf of President Joe Biden’s administration, which supports the position of Jackson Women’s Health, US Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar said that the overturning of Roe v. Wade would be an “unprecedented contraction” of individual rights.
“The court has never revoked a right that is so fundamental to so many Americans and so central to their ability to participate fully and equally in society,” she said.
Justice Samuel Alito, one of the most outspoken conservatives on the court, said that the “only real” options are to reaffirm Roe v. Wade or strike it down.
Among the three justices viewed as progressives, the sharpest comments Wednesday came from Sonia Sotomayor, who confronted Stewart with statements made by the Mississippi state legislators who pushed the anti-abortion law.
“Now, the sponsors of this bill, this house bill in Mississippi, 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?,” she asked. EFE llb/dr