Justice John Roberts defends Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban: Viability isn’t about ‘choice’

by Timothy Frudd

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments today on a major abortion case that conservatives hope could lead to the overturning of Roe v. Wade. The nine justices had a chance to question the lawyers involved in the case, ask questions, and give personal remarks regarding this highly anticipated case.

The case in question is a Mississippi law that bans almost all abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. The case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, represents a major battle between pro-life and pro-abortion activists. Mississippi’s law stands in opposition to Roe v. Wade which ruled that states cannot prohibit abortion before a baby can live outside of the womb.

During oral arguments, Chief Justice John Roberts commented, “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?”

Julie Rikelman, the lawyer responsible for representing the abortion clinic involved in this case, responded, “Without viability there will be no stopping point. States will rush to ban abortion at every point in pregnancy.”

In Roberts’ view, the case does not appear to be about choice because Mississippi’s law does not prohibit all abortions. Instead, the law prohibits abortions from being performed after 15 weeks of pregnancy, limiting the amount of time an individual can choose to get an abortion.

John Roberts’ comments are significant and offer hope for the pro-life movement, indicating that he is open to supporting Mississippi’s law banning abortion after 15 weeks and reconsidering the issue of “fetal viability.” Although Roberts’ stance on abortion has traditionally been to uphold Roe v. Wade, many conservatives believe this case could be different.

Roberts may not fully support overturning Roe v. Wade, but he could rule on the side of the state of Mississippi, giving a huge win to the pro-life movement in the United States.

With a 6-3 conservative majority on the Supreme Court, it is perhaps the best chance Americans have yet had to seeing a dramatic shift in federal policy concerning abortion. The stakes of this case could not be higher, with almost half of the nation’s states prepared to enact laws prohibiting abortion if Roe v. Wade is overturned. For possibly the first time in decades, the United States has a legitimate chance to right a serious wrong made in the case of Roe v. Wade against the lives of the unborn.

In 2018, Mississippi’s legislature passed a law which stated, “Abortion limited to fifteen (15) weeks’ gestation except in medical emergency and in cases of severe fetal abnormality.” This law was signed by Governor Phil Bryant, a Republican. Immediately following the enactment of the law, Jackson Women’s Health Organization submitted a lawsuit claiming, “Under decades of United States Supreme Court precedent, the state of Mississippi cannot ban abortion prior to viability, regardless of what exceptions are provided to the ban.”

A federal district court blocked the enforcement of Mississippi’s law and the 5th Circuit Appeals court also sided with Jackson Women’s Health Organization, preventing the abortion law to go into effect. In the summer of 2020, Mississippi submitted a petition to the Supreme Court, which finally agreed in May 2021 to hear arguments concerning the case.

Mississippi is not the only state to pass laws prohibiting abortion after a certain length of time. Multiple cases have been brought before the nation’s courts and caught the attention of the nation. This case is significant however, because the Supreme Court has shown signs of supporting the state’s law as opposed to striking down the state’s law.

This week’s oral arguments represent a significant milestone for the pro-life movement. While it is still too early to determine how the Supreme Court will rule in this landmark case, after the oral arguments on Wednesday, it appears as if the majority are supportive of upholding Mississippi’s ban on abortion after 15 weeks. This would be a major win for conservatives and pro-life advocates, who have fought hard to defend the rights of the unborn.

Although the Supreme Court’s decision is not expected to be announced for several months, the nation will be eagerly anticipating the highest court’s major decision on abortion. Roe v. Wade has been the precedent for decades, but this case could mark the beginning of a new precedent and a reversal in abortion policies.

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