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Biden expresses support for 1973 abortion rights ruling

Conservative-dominated US Supreme Court appears likely to roll back abortion rights

Hundreds of demonstrators gather outside as nine justices hear arguments for and against Mississippi law that bans the procedure after 15 weeks

Protesters, demonstrators and activists gather in front of the US Supreme Court as the justices hear arguments in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health, a case about a Mississippi law that bans most abortions after 15 weeks, on December 1, 2021 in Washington, DC. (CHIP SOMODEVILLA / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP)
Protesters, demonstrators and activists gather in front of the US Supreme Court as the justices hear arguments in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health, a case about a Mississippi law that bans most abortions after 15 weeks, on December 1, 2021 in Washington, DC. (CHIP SOMODEVILLA / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP)

WASHINGTON (AFP) — The conservative-dominated US Supreme Court appeared poised Wednesday to roll back abortion rights in the United States by upholding a law in the state of Mississippi that would ban the procedure after 15 weeks.

Hundreds of demonstrators gathered outside as the nine justices heard two hours of arguments in the most pivotal abortion case to reach the nation’s highest court in 50 years.

Mississippi Solicitor General Scott Stewart urged the court to uphold the state’s 15-week ban and strike down the landmark previous cases that enshrined a women’s constitutional right to an abortion.

While acknowledging abortion is a “hard issue,” Stewart argued that individual states should have the right to set their own rules.

“When an issue affects everyone and when the Constitution does not take sides on it, it belongs to the people,” he said. “This court should overrule Roe and Casey and uphold the state’s law.”

In its 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court held that access to abortion is a constitutional right.

Protesters, demonstrators and activists gather in front of the US Supreme Court as the justices hear arguments in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, a case about a Mississippi law that bans most abortions after 15 weeks, on December 1, 2021 in Washington, DC. (CHIP SOMODEVILLA / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP)

In a 1992 ruling, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the court guaranteed a woman’s right to a termination until the fetus is viable outside the womb, which is typically 22 to 24 weeks.

At least four of the six conservative justices on the court — including two nominated by Donald Trump — seemed receptive to overturning Roe and Casey.

The other two conservatives, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Neil Gorsuch, also a Trump nominee, appeared to favor a more cautious approach — upholding the 15-week ban in Mississippi while not going so far as to strike down Roe and Casey.

‘Flatly unconstitutional’

Attorney Julie Rikelman, arguing against the Mississippi law for the Center for Reproductive Rights, said it is “flatly unconstitutional.”

“For a state to take control of a woman’s body and demand that she goes through pregnancy and childbirth — with all the physical risks and life-altering consequences that it brings — is a fundamental deprivation of her liberty,” Rikelman said.

Rikelman argued for maintaining viability as the legal cutoff point for an abortion.

“Without viability, there will be no stopping point,” she said. “States will rush to ban abortion at virtually any point in pregnancy.”

Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar, representing the Biden administration, said the court “has never revoked a right that is so fundamental to so many Americans and so central to their ability to participate fully and equally in society.”

“The real-world effects of overruling Roe and Casey would be severe and swift,” Prelogar said.

Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) (L) and Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO) speak during a demonstration in front of the US Supreme Court as the justices hear arguments in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, a case about a Mississippi law that bans most abortions after 15 weeks, on December 1, 2021 in Washington, DC. (CHIP SOMODEVILLA / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP)

Speaking after the court session, US President Joe Biden said he supports maintaining Roe. “I think it’s a rational position to take. And I continue to support it,” he told reporters.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor, one of the three liberal justices, suggested overturning Roe would give the impression the court is a political and not a judicial body.

“Will this institution survive the stench that this creates in the public perception, that the Constitution and its reading are just political acts?” she asked.

“The right of a woman to choose, the right to control her own body has been clearly set,” she said.

‘Fundamental right’

Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who was nominated by Trump, made it clear he believed access to abortion should be regulated by the states.

“Why should this court be the arbiter rather than Congress, the state legislatures, state supreme courts, the people,” Kavanaugh said.

“There’ll be different answers in Mississippi, in New York. Different answers in Alabama than California,” he said. “Why is that not the right answer?”

Prelogar, the solicitor general, said it was not the right answer because the court has recognized that abortion is a “fundamental right of women.”

“And the nature of fundamental rights is that it’s not left up to state legislatures to decide whether to honor them or not,” she said.

Supreme Court Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh in 2018 (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via AP, Pool)

The other justice nominated by Trump, Amy Coney Barrett, asked repeatedly why adoption cannot be considered a viable alternative to abortion.

The 2018 law passed by the legislature in Mississippi, a conservative Bible Belt state, was blocked as unconstitutional by lower courts before ending up in the Supreme Court.

As the court heard arguments from the two sides on Wednesday, hundreds of demonstrators gathered outside carrying signs and banners and chanting slogans.

“Abortion Is Murder,” read placards carried by anti-abortion protesters. “Abortion Is Health Care,” said sign displayed by supporters of abortion rights.

The Supreme Court is expected to render a decision by June.

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