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Clarence Thomas' Long Fight Reaches Its 'Zenith'

Supreme Court hears arguments in highly awaited abortion case out of Mississippi
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 30, 2021 1:14 PM CST
Roe v. Wade Hangs in Balance on Wednesday
In this April 23, 2021, file photo, members of the Supreme Court pose for a group photo at the Supreme Court in Washington.   (Erin Schaff/The New York Times via AP, Pool)

(Newser) – It's seen as the best chance in 50 years to overturn Roe v. Wade. On Wednesday, the most conservative Supreme Court in decades will take up the case of Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health, which centers on a Mississippi law that prohibits abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy. Lower courts sought to strike down the law based on legal precedent. And "the fact that the court decided to take up the case—without a clear conflict among lower courts or ambiguity in legal precedent—suggests to many legal scholars that a decision favoring Mississippi is highly likely," writes Devin Dwyer at ABC News. A decision is expected next June. Here's what you need to know now:

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  • A potential reversal: In allowing the Mississippi law, the Supreme Court would reverse almost 50 years of legal precedent, begun with the 1972 Roe v. Wade case and continued with the 1992 case Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which reaffirmed Roe and barred restrictions that place an "undue burden" on women's access to abortion before a fetus is viable outside the womb, usually around 24 to 26 weeks of pregnancy.
  • State restrictions: Mississippi and conservative activists want that condition eliminated, allowing states to set their own rules. Twenty-one states already have laws in place that would impose abortion bans in the event that Roe v. Wade is overturned, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which supports abortion rights, per ABC. It notes Republican-led states have enacted more than 100 new abortion restrictions this year.

  • A vote decided? Justice Clarence Thomas is likely to vote in Mississippi's favor, per the Washington Post. "Our abortion precedents are grievously wrong and should be overruled," the court's longest-serving member wrote in a 2020 dissenting opinion in a case related to restrictions on abortion clinics and doctors. The 73-year-old also objected to Planned Parenthood v. Casey in his very first term on the court. For the justice, the Mississippi case marks the "zenith" of three decades of opposition from the bench to abortion, per the Post.
  • Public opinion: But Thomas stands apart from the American public. Three out of four Americans say the decision to have an abortion should be left to a woman and her doctor, according to a recent ABC News/Washington Post poll. A majority of Republicans, Democrats, and independents gave that same answer. Some 48% of respondents identified as pro-choice in a Gallup survey in June 2020, compared to 46% as pro-life, per Fox News.

  • The case for life: At the New York Times, columnist Ross Douthat argues "a distinct human organism comes into existence at conception," therefore "abortion kills a unique member of the species Homo sapiens, an act that in almost every other context is forbidden by the law." He challenges the idea that fetal viability equals personhood. As for arguments about the rights of women, "is it really necessary to found equality for one group of human beings on legal violence toward another, entirely voiceless group?" he asks.
  • Lack of exemptions: But while Douthat acknowledges the need for exemptions, such as in the case of rape or incest (also supported by former President Donald Trump), there are none included in the Mississippi law, nor in the Texas law banning abortion after six weeks of pregnancy. The Supreme Court has allowed the Texas law to take effect, bolstering the idea that it will overturn Roe v. Wade.
  • A "major departure": At the Atlantic, Michele Goodwin and Mary Ziegler suggest anti-abortion advocates only tolerated exemptions for rape and incest as a way to build public support. Now, "few anti-abortion activists are worried about building broad public support when they have a Court that looks willing to give them everything." And that could further lead to more punishments for pregnant women who suffer a miscarriage or stillbirth, the authors write.
(Read more abortion stories.)

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