The Supreme Court will hear arguments on Wednesday in the most important abortion case in a generation, a challenge to a Mississippi law that bars most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. The law is at odds with Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that established a constitutional right to abortion and prohibited states from banning abortions before fetal viability, the point at which the fetus can survive outside the womb, or around 23 weeks.
Lawyers for Mississippi have asked the court to overrule Roe, a move that would allow states to ban abortions at any time or entirely.
Where can I listen?
The New York Times will be streaming the oral arguments and providing live coverage of the proceedings when they begin at 10 a.m. Eastern. The argument is scheduled to last 70 minutes but will probably approach two hours.
What are the key arguments?
The two sides say there is no middle ground. Lawyers for the state argue that the Constitution says nothing about a right to abortion and that Roe is “egregiously wrong.” They urge the court to overrule the decision and to return the question of whether and when to allow abortions to the states.
Lawyers for Mississippi’s only abortion clinic say that Roe was a principled decision that has been repeatedly reaffirmed by the Supreme Court, most notably in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the 1992 decision that revised Roe but retained its core holding, that women can choose to have abortions until fetal viability.
Neither side supports a third possible outcome, one in which the court upholds the Mississippi law but does not overrule Roe in so many words. That would require the court to do away with the fetal-viability cutoff and replace it with a different standard, a task legal experts say presents a daunting challenge.
Why is this important?
Without Roe, abortion would probably become illegal in 22 states. Forty-one percent of women of childbearing age would see the nearest abortion clinic close, and the average distance they would have to travel to reach one would be 280 miles, up from 36 miles now. In practical terms, overruling Roe would make abortion inaccessible to many poor women.
Abortion rights supporters also say that overruling Roe could damage the legitimacy of the Supreme Court by doing away with what has been a constitutional right for half of a century following a change in the court’s membership. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who believed that women’s equality requires access to abortion, died last year and was replaced by Justice Amy Coney Barrett, who has said she opposes abortion.
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