Supreme Court: Top US judges signal support for abortion limits

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Intl desk report, Dec 02: The US Supreme Court appears poised to accept a Mississippi law that would bar abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, even in cases of rape or incest.

In Wednesday’s hearing into the case, conservative justices hinted that a majority backed upholding the law.

A ruling, expected in June, may see millions of women lose abortion access.

Anti-abortion activists are urging the court to “protect unborn children”, but experts warn of an increase in maternal mortality if abortion is restricted.

Both sides of the debate regard this case, known as Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Organization, as an all-or-nothing fight over abortion rights.

Lawyers defending the Mississippi law have asked the court to overturn two previous landmark decisions regarding abortion.

The first, 1973’s Roe v Wade, gave women in the US an absolute right to an abortion in the first three months of pregnancy, and limited rights in the second trimester.

In 1992, in Planned Parenthood v Casey, the court ruled that states could not place an “undue burden” on women seeking abortions before a foetus could survive outside the womb, at about 24 weeks.

In the years since, the “foetal viability” standard has acted as a red line in abortion law, preventing any bans on abortion before this time.

But anti-abortion campaigners hope the current ideological makeup of the court has created a new opening. The court, reshaped by three appointments under former President Donald Trump, has been called the most conservative-leaning in modern US history.

If the court strikes down Roe v Wade, or rules that the Mississippi law does not place an undue burden on women seeking abortions, at least 21 states are expected to introduce abortion restrictions, including outright bans after 15 weeks.

In these states, nearly half of US women of reproductive age (18-49) – some 36 million people – could lose abortion access, according to research from Planned Parenthood, a healthcare organisation that provides abortions.

Carol Tobias, president of anti-abortion group National Right to Life, told the BBC she was optimistic the court would step in “to protect unborn children”.

“We certainly hope that they will let the Mississippi law stand,” she said. “We’d love to see them go even further and say that unborn human beings deserve the same protection as born human beings”.

But for other women in Washington DC, the possibility of restricted abortion brought fear.

“I’m not shocked, but I’m scared,” said Olivia Dinucci. “Abortion still going to happen, people are going to do it no matter if it’s legal or not. However, it will not be safe.”

She added: “It’s 2021, I cannot believe we have to be fighting this.”

And some experts have predicted dangerous ripple effects if abortion is restricted.

“We will see significant increases in maternal mortality, which are already disproportionately experienced by women of colour,” said Katherine Franke, director of the centre for gender and sexuality law at Columbia University.

“We will see families descend into greater levels of poverty because the inability to take care of kids, rises in domestic violence.”

Source: News Agencies