The Act prohibits abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy except in cases where the mother’s life or physical health is at risk or where the unborn child has a life-threatening condition that is incompatible with life outside the womb. In other words, it prohibits elective abortions after 15 weeks.
The case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, has potentially far reaching implications for abortion laws in the US, as it calls into question the precedent set by Roe v. Wade, the case that legalised abortion in the US and set viability (around 22-24 weeks) as the threshold for when abortions can be carried out.
In accepting the case, the court said it will examine whether “all pre-viability prohibitions on elective abortions are unconstitutional.”
Abortion advocates have reacted to the announcement with alarm.
"Alarm bells are ringing loudly about the threat to reproductive rights. The Supreme Court just agreed to review an abortion ban that unquestionably violates nearly 50 years of Supreme Court precedent and is a test case to overturn Roe v. Wade," said Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, which is among those challenging the law.
“This is not a drill,” said Elizabeth Nash of the Guttmacher Institute, a pro-abortion research organisation. “The [Supreme Court’s] decision comes at a time when conservative politicians in over a dozen states are dismantling abortion rights and access with a vengeance and could eclipse even the record of enacted restrictions set in 2011.”
There is “No way to overstate what a huge deal this is,” said legal historian Professor Mary Ziegler.
However, while abortion advocates panic about the “threat to women’s rights”, it is worth considering some of the Legislature’s reasoning for limiting abortion to 15 weeks’ gestation:
- “The United States is one (1) of only seven (7) nations in the world that permits nontherapeutic or elective abortion-on-demand after the twentieth week of gestation. In fact, fully seventy-five percent (75%) of all nations do not permit abortion after twelve (12) weeks’ gestation, except (in most instances) to save the life and to preserve the physical health of the mother.”
- “Medical and other authorities now know more about human prenatal development than ever before including that… At twelve (12) weeks’ gestation, an unborn human being can open and close his or her fingers, starts to make sucking motions, and senses stimulation from the world outside the womb. Importantly, he or she has taken on “the human form” in all relevant aspects.”
- “The majority of abortion procedures performed after fifteen (15) weeks’ gestation are dilation and evacuation procedures which involve the use of surgical instruments to crush and tear the unborn child apart before removing the pieces of the dead child from the womb. The Legislature finds that the intentional commitment of such acts for nontherapeutic or elective reasons is a barbaric practice, dangerous for the maternal patient, and demeaning to the medical profession.”
- “Abortion carries significant physical and psychological risks to the maternal patient, and these physical and psychological risks increase with gestational age. Specifically, in abortions performed after eight (8) weeks’ gestation, the relative physical and psychological risks escalate exponentially as gestational age increases.”
- “Medical complications from dilation and evacuation abortions include, but are not limited to: pelvic infection; incomplete abortions (retained tissue); blood clots; heavy bleeding or hemorrhage; laceration, tear, or other injury to the cervix; puncture, laceration, tear, or other injury to the uterus; injury to the bowel or bladder; depression; anxiety; substance abuse; and other emotional or psychological problems. Further, in abortions performed after fifteen (15) weeks’ gestation, there is a higher risk of requiring a hysterectomy, other reparative surgery, or blood transfusion.”
Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch, the first female attorney general in the state and the one who asked the Supreme Court to take on the case, said in a statement after the announcement:
“The Mississippi Legislature enacted this law consistent with the will of its constituents to promote women’s health and preserve the dignity and sanctity of life. I remain committed to advocating for women and defending Mississippi’s legal right to protect the unborn.”
There is so much more to consider when it comes to women’s health and rights on the issue of unplanned pregnancy than the right to abortion on demand. Take for example, the physical and psychological risks posed to women by abortion, the immense societal pressures that lead women to seek abortion in the first place, and the discriminatory systems that fail to adequately accommodate and support pregnant women, mothers and their unborn children.
If abortion advocates were as zealous about these issues as they are about the “right to abortion”, we might make some real progress for women.