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Supreme Court to take up major Mississippi abortion case

The announcement is a boost to abortion opponents, who hope that a newly conservative court will be more receptive to abortion restrictions.

The Supreme Court said Monday it would consider the legality of Mississippi's ban on most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, which had been struck down by a lower court ruling.

The announcement is a boost to abortion opponents, who hope that a newly conservative court, especially after the appointment of Justice Amy Coney Barrett, will be more receptive to abortion restrictions.

Mississippi's abortion restriction was the first to reach the court from a wave of state laws intended to challenge the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which declared that access to abortion was a constitutional right.

Mississippi passed the Gestational Age Act in 2018, prohibiting abortions after 15 weeks except in cases of medical emergencies or severe fetal abnormality. Supporters said it was intended to regulate "inhumane procedures" and argued that a fetus was capable of detecting and responding to pain by then.

The Supreme Court has consistently ruled that states cannot restrict abortion before the age of viability, but Mississippi said it must be free to take account of advancements in medical knowledge that would shift the point of viability earlier in the pregnancy.

Federal District Judge Carlton Reeves for the Southern District of Mississippi struck the act down, saying the state "chose to pass a law it knew was unconstitutional to enforce a decades-long campaign, fueled by interest groups, to ask the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade."

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the ruling, prompting the state's appeal to the Supreme Court.

Writing for the appeals panel, Judge Patrick Higginbotham said 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."

The Center for Reproductive Rights, representing the state's only abortion clinic, said the Supreme Court has consistently held that "before viability, it is for the pregnant person, and not the state, to make the ultimate decision whether to continue a pregnancy."

Viability, defined as the time at which a life could be sustained outside the womb, "has not moved and has instead remained the same since 1992" at about 23 to 24 weeks, the group said.

Jeanne Mancini, the president of March for Life, said in a statement Monday that most Americans believe abortion should be limited to the first three months of pregnancy "at most."

"States should be allowed to craft laws that are in line with both public opinion on this issue as well as basic human compassion, instead of the extreme policy that Roe imposed," Mancini said.

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, another anti-abortion group, called the decision to take up the case "a landmark opportunity for the Supreme Court to recognize the right of states to protect unborn children from the horrors of painful late-term abortions."

"It is time for the Supreme Court to catch up to scientific reality and the resulting consensus of the American people as expressed in elections and policy,” Dannenfelser said in a statement.

But Jennifer Dalven, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Reproductive Freedom Project, said the case "could decimate, if not take away entirely, the constitutional right to abortion."

"If the Supreme Court rules in favor of Mississippi, it will take the decision about whether to have an abortion away from individuals and hand it over to politicians," Dalven said. "The American people overwhelmingly support the right of individuals to make this decision for themselves and will not tolerate having this right taken away.”

The court will hear the case in the fall.