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The US Supreme Court is making headlines this week as they hear arguments in Dobbs v. Jackson, the Mississippi abortion case that could lead to overturning Roe v. Wade.
A majority of the justices – three of whom were appointed by President Donald Trump – have signaled support for the Mississippi law that bans abortion after fifteen weeks gestation. If SCOTUS upholds the law, it will underscore the power of each state to determine its own abortion restrictions, a precedent which could mean the end of Roe.
During oral arguments Wednesday, liberal Justice Sonia Sotaymayor compared a fetus to a dead body and argued that a fetus’s ability to feel pain does not mean the baby is a living being. But Chief Justice John Roberts, often a swing vote, observed that extreme US abortion laws put us in the same category as China and North Korea.
Justice Clarence Thomas, who has staunchly opposed Roe throughout his career, said the right to abortion is simply not in the Constitution: “If we were talking about the Second Amendment, I know exactly what we’re talking about. If we’re talking about the Fourth Amendment, I know what we’re talking about because it’s written. It’s there. What specifically is the right here that we’re talking about?”
An opportunity to overturn Roe could be a capstone achievement for Thomas, who as served on the high court since 1991.
The liberal members of the court have also argued that Roe, a 1973 decision, has been law for too long to overturn. As a comparison, Plessy v. Ferguson, a landmark 1896 decision allowing racial segregation in schools, was overturned by Brown v Board of Education 60 years later in 1954. In the case of Roe, significant technological advances have changed the medical landscape of pregnancy in myriad ways in the last 48 years.
Reactions to Arguments
Reactions from both sides of the aisle have been eye-opening.
Rep. Haley Stevens (D-MI) said, “We don’t need the court intervening between a woman and her doctor,” despite the clear intervention that is Roe.
“The court is finally willing to catch up with the technology – the ultrasounds, that babies are kicking, that viability is getting earlier,” said Rep. Michelle Fishbach (R-MN).
US Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) issued a warning to the Supreme Court before arguments began, promising a “revolution” if the high court overturns existing precedent. She said, “I hope the Supreme Court is listening to the people of the United States because… I think if you want to see a revolution go ahead, outlaw Roe v. Wade and see what the response is of the public, particularly young people… Because I think that will not be acceptable to young women or young men.”
Groups of demonstrators on both sides of the issue have descended on the area surrounding the SCOTUS building near the Capitol.