Supreme Court

Abortion Rights in Balance as U.S. Supreme Court Considers Mississippi 15-Week Abortion Ban

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The court’s conservative majority appears willing to overturn Roe v. Wade or to at least eliminate its key provision which prevents states from banning abortion before a fetus can live outside the womb. NBC 5’s Lili Zheng explains how the high court’s decision could affect Texas.

Legal abortions in Texas and other states could be significantly impacted based on a decision that now lies with the U.S. Supreme Court, a Texas attorney said.

The U.S. Supreme Court appeared poised Wednesday to side with Mississippi in its bid to uphold a 15-week abortion ban. Justices heard just under two hours of oral arguments in the most direct challenge to Roe v. Wade in nearly decades. NBC News reports a majority of the court's conservative justices suggested they were prepared to discard the court's previous standard that prevented states from banning abortion before a fetus becomes viable, which is generally considered to be at about 24 weeks into a pregnancy.

North Texas attorney Eric Cedillo is a clinical professor of law at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. He said the decision from the court has the potential to overturn the 1973 landmark decision in Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion in the United States. The central framework suggested women have a constitutional right to an abortion in the first two trimesters of pregnancy when a fetus is unable to survive outside the womb, roughly between 22 and 24 weeks.

“The State of Mississippi has maintained that viability is not the standard that the Supreme Court should be using,” Cedillo said. “Now they’ve turned around and they’ve basically said that there is no inherent, there’s no constitutional right for a woman to have an abortion – that Roe v. Wade and [Planned Parenthood v.] Casey have it wrong, ultimately.”

Cedillo said the decision could come down to Brett Kavanaugh, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court.

“There are three safe justices in terms of maintaining Roe v. Wade. Three liberal justices, as they’re referred to. Chief Justice Roberts has historically relied on past precedent in denying some of these cases,” he said. “You’ve got four justices who would adhere to Roe. It’s that fifth on the other side, which may be Brett Kavanaugh that makes the decision or determination that Roe v. Wade be overturned or Casey be overturned.”

He noted Texas is one of 12 states that currently have “trigger laws” which go into effect if Roe v. Wade is overturned.

“What those will do in the state of Texas will be a complete ban against abortions. It will happen 30 days after Roe v. Wade or Casey is overturned,” he said. “Once that happens, it’s very possible that if it does go that far… that the state will have a complete ban on abortions and make it a felony for a doctor to do an abortion.”

Kimberlyn Schwartz with Texas Right to Life said they were optimistic over what they heard Wednesday.

“It’s really telling to see kind of which way the justices are leaning. I think the most likely outcomes are going to be this court, in this case, will either substantially weaken Roe v. Wade or might overturn Roe v. Wade altogether,” Schwartz said. “The legislative strategy of Texas Right to Life has been exactly what Mississippi is doing here, which is to point the court’s direction to the humanity of the pre-born child.”

A decision from the court is expected around June.

“So, we have plenty of time to lay that foundation to prepare for hopefully, a post-Roe world where we empower our pregnancy centers in our communities to be able to serve these women to choose life,” said Schwartz.

In a statement to NBC 5 Wednesday, the CEO of Whole Woman’s Health Amy Hagstrom Miller called 2021 “an unprecedented ambush on abortion rights and independent clinics are leading the fight back.” There are four clinics in Texas operated by Whole Woman's Health.

Hagstrom Miller also criticized the U.S. Supreme over the current Heartbeat Act in Texas, which bans abortions after six weeks.

“Today marks 91 days since Texas’ SB8 abortion ban took hold. And for the past 31 days, the Supreme Court has been sitting on it – allowing the most cruel and radical abortion ever seen in the USA to take hold. Their lack of intervention is sending a strong, clear message: abortion rights are not guaranteed. Yet, we dig deep because we know that we stand in the light. We know that providing abortion is a moral good for our communities. We know our work is ESSENTIAL,” the statement reads.