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Abortion Providers Warn of ‘Chaos’ If High Court Upends Roe (1)

Sept. 13, 2021, 11:48 PM

Abortion-rights advocates told the U.S. Supreme Court that “chaos” will reign if the justices overturn constitutional protections, arguing that women will be left without a way to legally end pregnancies in much of the country.

In a court filing Monday, reproductive-rights groups said a decision upholding Mississippi’s ban after 15 weeks of pregnancy would have a devastating impact even if the court doesn’t explicitly overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling, which legalized abortion nationwide. The organizations represent Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the state’s only abortion facility.

“The fallout would be swift and certain,” said the groups, led by the Center for Reproductive Rights. “As abortion bans are enforced -- or the threat of enforcement looms -- large swaths of the South and Midwest would likely be without access to legal abortion.”

Mississippi, backed by hundreds of Republican officials, is asking the court to overrule Roe and the 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey ruling. Casey established fetal viability, a point somewhere after the 20th week of pregnancy, as the key line and barred states from imposing an “undue burden” on abortion before that point. The court hasn’t set an argument date but is scheduled to rule by late June.

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When it sought Supreme Court intervention last year, Mississippi asked the court to throw out the viability standard without necessarily overturning Roe. After Justice Amy Coney Barrett was confirmed to succeed the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg -- giving the court a 6-3 conservative majority -- the state took a harder line and called for Roe to be overturned.

“Today’s brief offers no solid arguments in defense of Roe,” Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch said in a videotaped statement. “And the court should overturn this flawed and hopelessly unworkable precedent. It is time to return policy making to the people, where they can address abortion policy in a way that empowers women and promotes life.”

The court recently cast new doubt on the durability of its abortion-rights precedents when a 5-4 majority let a Texas law take effect and ban abortion after the six-week mark. In rejecting a bid to stop the measure while litigation goes forward, the majority pointed to a thicket of procedural obstacles stemming from the law’s unusual delegation of enforcement powers to private parties.

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Abortion rights groups said in the new filing that the viability standard “strikes a principled and workable balance between individual liberty and any countervailing government interests.” They argued that two generations of women have come to rely on the availability of abortion and that the right is critical to women’s equal participation in society.

“Unless the court is to be perceived as representing nothing more than the preferences of its current membership, it is critical that judicial protection hold firm absent the most dramatic and unexpected changes in law or fact,” the groups argued.

The Mississippi ban makes exceptions only in cases of severe fetal abnormality or major health risk to the woman. A federal district judge and then a federal appeals court said the ban was unconstitutional.

The case is Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, 19-1392.

(Updates with Fitch statement in sixth paragraph.)

To contact the reporter on this story:
Greg Stohr in Washington at gstohr@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story:
Elizabeth Wasserman at ewasserman2@bloomberg.net

Jon Morgan

© 2021 Bloomberg L.P. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

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