An NPR member station
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

A controversial abortion law comes before the Supreme Court this week


Tomorrow, the Supreme Court will hear a case concerning a Mississippi law that bans most abortions after 15 weeks. That law contravenes Roe v. Wade. And if the Supreme Court lets it stand, that would effectively overturn Roe. Yesterday, I talked to Nancy Northup, the president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights. Her legal team is representing Jackson Women's Health Organization before the Supreme Court this week.

This Mississippi law was passed back in 2018. It directly violates Roe v. Wade. Why did it take three years for the Supreme Court to review it?

NANCY NORTHUP: Well, this has been making its way through the court since we filed suit, just really moments after the law was passed. It was easily struck down by both the District Court and the Court of Appeals, but the Supreme Court waited quite a long time to agree to take the case. But we're here now, and it's really a watershed moment about whether the Supreme Court is going to uphold long-standing protections for the individual liberty of abortion access that profoundly impacts women's lives, health and future.

KING: Profoundly impacts women's lives, health and future - you are talking about very high stakes. Why is this particular case so important?

NORTHUP: If Mississippi's law is upheld, the only way the court would be able to do that would be to essentially overturn Roe v. Wade. There's no consistency between the Mississippi law and Roe. In fact, Mississippi enacted the law as a test case to eventually seek the court to overturn Roe v. Wade.

Since the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade, the court has been clear that a core holding of Roe is that until the point of fetal viability, the government, while it may have regulations on abortion, it can't ban it entirely. It has to ultimately let the woman make the decision for herself, considering all the profound health and life implications. So the Mississippi 15-week ban is weeks before - nine weeks before - viability, and it sets up this test case about Roe v. Wade.

KING: I'd like to ask you a question about public opinion. There was a poll taken by Marquette University Law School suggesting that 37% of people favor bans on abortions after the 15th week of pregnancy, which is what this law essentially does. Is it possible that the Mississippi law may be in line with public opinion on abortion in this country?

NORTHUP: What's important about public opinion is that 70% of the American public don't want to see Roe overturned. And, indeed, Mississippi voters rejected a personhood law when they had a chance to vote on it.

One in 4 women in the United States has an abortion. So whatever people answer in the polls, when they have to make the decision themselves, the reality is every pregnancy is different. And those who find themselves making a decision at the 15-week mark or later have individual circumstances for that.

KING: Mississippi only has one abortion clinic in the entire state, and I know there are people who will wonder, what would this law really change given that access is already so restricted?

NORTHUP: Well, it is true. Mississippi does have restricted access. There is just the one clinic in the state that we represent, Jackson Women's Health Organization. And Mississippi does have some of the most restrictive laws in the United States - a lot of hoops for patients to go through, no coverage under Medicaid - and so it is hard for women to access, but they still do. And the reality is, if you take away the only clinic in the state, people have to cross state lines. And as we're seeing right now in Texas, where unfortunately there's a law in effect that clearly violates Roe v. Wade, doesn't provide abortion care after six weeks, we're seeing people having to cross state lines.

KING: This is the first abortion case that the Supreme Court has heard since Justice Amy Coney Barrett was seated. She's a known opponent of abortion rights. Do you believe that will play a role in the outcome?

NORTHUP: Look, we are arguing before the court that really there is only one outcome in this case that's consistent with the rule of law, and that is for the Supreme Court to uphold the Mississippi law. I mean, it is a critical moment for the Supreme Court, including for all of the justices. And they all testified about the importance to the rule of law of precedent and following precedent, because it cannot be politics or ideology. So we'll be appealing to every single one of the justices to follow the rule of law in this case, which has been the law of the land for almost 50 years.

KING: When can we expect the Supreme Court to finish deliberating and deliver a verdict?

NORTHUP: Well, it has been the case in abortion cases that often it's not until the last day of the Supreme Court's term, which is at the end of June. So that might be the expectation here. But the court is able to decide this case, as well as the Texas case, whenever they come to a decision after oral argument.

KING: Nancy Northup is president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, which is representing the Jackson Women's Health Organization in front of the Supreme Court tomorrow. Nancy, thank you so much for your time.

NORTHUP: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.