Mississippi Supreme Court abortion case: What to watch?

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The Supreme Court on Wednesday will hear arguments in the most important abortion case in a generation, challenging a Mississippi law that bans most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. The law is at odds with Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that established a constitutional right to abortion and banned states from prohibiting abortions before fetal viability, the point at which the fetus can survive outside the womb, or about 23 to soften.

Lawyers for Mississippi have asked the court to overturn Roe, a move that would allow states to ban abortions at any time or completely.

The New York Times will stream the pleadings and report live on the proceedings when they begin at 10 a.m. Eastern. The argument is scheduled to last 70 minutes, but will likely approach two hours.

The two sides say there is no middle ground. State lawyers say the Constitution says nothing about the right to abortion and that Roe is “disgracefully wrong”. They are urging the court to reverse the decision and return the question of whether and when abortion should be allowed to states.

Attorneys for the only abortion clinic in Mississippi say Roe was a principled decision that has been repeatedly upheld by the Supreme Court, most notably in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the 1992 decision that revised Roe but kept the core position that women can choose to abortions to fetal viability.

Neither side supports a third possible outcome, one in which the court upholds Mississippi law but doesn’t expressly reject Roe. That would mean that the court would lift the fetal viability threshold and replace it with another standard, a task that legal experts say presents a huge challenge.

Without Roe, abortion would likely become illegal in 22 states. Forty-one percent of women of childbearing age would see the nearest abortion clinic nearby, and the average distance they would have to travel to get to one would be 280 miles, up from 56 miles now. In practice, ignoring Roe would make abortion inaccessible to many poor women.

Abortion rights advocates also say ignoring Roe could damage the legitimacy of the Supreme Court by abolishing what had been a constitutional right for half a century following a change in court membership. Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who believed women’s equality requires access to abortion, died last year and was replaced by Judge Amy Comey Barrett, who said she was against abortion.

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