Conservative majority US Supreme Court takes up abortion case

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Pro-choice and anti-abortion activists demonstrate in front of the US Supreme Court in January 2020

Washington (AFP) - The US Supreme Court agreed on Monday to hear a case that could pose a challenge to the landmark 1973 ruling legalizing abortion.

The case, involving a Mississippi law that bans most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, will be heard during the court's Fall term beginning in October.

It will be the first abortion case considered by the nation's highest court since former president Donald Trump cemented a conservative majority on the nine-member panel.

The 2018 Mississippi law prohibits abortions after the 15th week except in cases of a medical emergency or a severe fetal abnormality. The law does not make any exceptions for rape or incest.

The Supreme Court agreed to hear the case after the law was struck down as unconstitutional by two lower courts.

Trump's appointment of three justices locked in a 6-to-3 conservative majority on the court and raised the possibility of overturning Roe v Wade, the 1973 ruling on abortion rights.

Abortion divides the American population, with strong opposition especially among evangelical Christians.

Roe v Wade prohibits states from banning abortion before the time a fetus is considered to be viable, which is considered to be around 24 weeks.

In recent years, however, several Republican-led states have sought to impose restrictive laws on abortion, forcing many clinics to close their doors.

The Center for Reproductive Rights, a party to the legal challenge to the Mississippi law, expressed concern over the Supreme Court's decision to hear the case.

"Alarm bells are ringing loudly about the threat to reproductive rights," said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights.

"The Supreme Court just agreed to review an abortion ban that unquestionably violates nearly 50 years of Supreme Court precedent and is a test case to overturn Roe v. Wade," Northup said.

'Eliminate abortion access entirely'

Diane Derzis, owner of the Jackson Women's Health Organization, the only remaining abortion clinic in Mississippi, said she would be forced to turn many patients away if the law was upheld and "they would lose their right to abortion in this state."

"Mississippi politicians have created countless barriers for people trying to access abortion," Derzis said. "It's all part of their strategy to eliminate abortion access entirely."

According to the Center for Reproductive Rights, 12 other states since 2019 have passed laws banning abortion at various stages of pregnancy.

Jennifer Dalven, director of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, said the Supreme Court could "decimate, if not take away entirely, the constitutional right to abortion.

"If the Supreme Court rules in favor of Mississippi, it will take the decision about whether to have an abortion away from individuals and hand it over to politicians," Dalven said.

"The American people overwhelmingly support the right of individuals to make this decision for themselves and will not tolerate having this right taken away."     

The anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List (SBA List) welcomed the Supreme Court decision to accept the case, Dobbs v Jackson Women's Health Organization.

"This is a landmark opportunity for the Supreme Court to recognize the right of states to protect unborn children from the horrors of painful late-term abortions," SBA List president Marjorie Dannenfelser said.

"Across the nation, state lawmakers acting on the will of the people have introduced 536 pro-life bills aimed at humanizing our laws and challenging the radical status quo imposed by Roe," she said.

"It is time for the Supreme Court to catch up to scientific reality and the resulting consensus of the American people as expressed in elections and policy."

A ruling in the case is not expected until June of next year.