Supreme Court to Hear Oral Arguments Challenging Roe v. Wade in December

September 20, 2021 Updated: September 20, 2021

Arguments in a case challenging the validity of the 1973 Supreme Court ruling that access to abortion is a constitutional right are scheduled to take place in the nation’s highest court near the end of 2021.

The Supreme Court will hear arguments in the case of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization on Dec. 1, the court announced on Sept. 20.

Justices had agreed in May to hear the case, but it hadn’t been known before when the case would be heard.

Mississippi enacted a law in 2018 barring abortions after 15 weeks outside of medical emergencies or the discovery of a severe abnormality in the unborn baby.

U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves, an Obama appointee, struck down the law, finding “it is a facially unconstitutional ban on abortions prior to viability.” A trio of 5th Circuit Court of Appeals judges later upheld the ruling.

“In an unbroken line dating to Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court’s abortion cases have established (and affirmed, and re-affirmed) a woman’s right to choose an abortion before viability. States may regulate abortion procedures prior to viability so long as they do not impose an undue burden on the woman’s right, but they may not ban abortions,” U.S. Circuit Court Judge Patrick Higginbotham, a Reagan appointee, wrote in the decision.

That prompted a request in early 2020 for the Supreme Court to analyze the lower court decisions.

In a brief to the court over the summer, Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch, a Republican, said the court should overturn Roe v. Wade.

“The conclusion that abortion is a constitutional right has no basis in text, structure, history, or tradition,” Fitch wrote.

Hillary Schneller, senior staff attorney for the Center for Reproductive Rights, which is representing the Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the last abortion clinic in Mississippi, has said the legislation in question “defies decades of Supreme Court precedent.”

Roe v. Wade made abortion lawful throughout the United States. The Supreme Court, in ruling on the 1992 case Parenthood v. Casey, said states can’t impose significant restrictions on abortion before a fetus becomes viable for life outside of the womb, though the justices didn’t specify when viability occurs.

Pro-life groups have asserted that science has advanced since the decisions of decades ago, with findings including fetuses, or unborn babies, may be able to feel pain as early as 13 weeks into a pregnancy.

The groups hope the makeup of the court could signal a favorable decision. The nine-justice court includes just three Democrat-appointed justices, with six appointed by Republican presidents. That includes three justices appointed by then-President Donald Trump, an avowed opponent of abortion.

Matthew Vadum and Jack Phillips contributed to this report.

Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber covers U.S. and world news. He is based in Maryland.