Despite a recent move that could severely erode reproductive rights, abortion advocates are stressing the need to educate the public that abortions remain legal in the U.S.
The U.S. Supreme Court said Monday it would review a 2018 Mississippi abortion ruling banning all abortions after 15 weeks post conception, setting the stage to revisit Roe v. Wade for the first time in a generation under conservative majority judges.
The ruling could challenge Roe v. Wade’s 1973 precedent establishing the right to terminate a pregnancy in the first six months of pregnancy or when the fetus is unable to survive outside the womb.
“Mississippi tends to be the testing ground for anti-reproductive health legislation in this country. [The 15-week ban] was sort of the first of its kind; they were testing it out,” said Staci Fox, president of Planned Parenthood Southeast. “I think they were trying to author something that they thought the Supreme Court might pick up.”
The South is no stranger to taking center stage in the country’s fight for reproductive justice. But through targeted regulations known as T.RA.P. laws — which include waiting periods and limited abortion clinic access — many areas in the region are already functioning as if Roe were already overturned.
Fox said the patchwork network of reproductive care throughout the South shows how how important it is to protect abortion access where it exists and educate the public about those rights.
Fox said three barriers to care are: the challenge of recruiting physicians to the area, the distance that many people must travel to access abortions, and mandatory counseling and waiting periods.
Last year the Supreme Court struck down a Louisiana law that required doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. Since, the makeup of the court has changed with the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a longtime supporter of reproductive rights, and the appointment of her replacement, Justice Amy Coney Barrett, who voted to mandate doctors to inform parents of a minor seeking an abortion.
The 15-week ban was passed in Mississippi before the latest round of heartbeat bills (an abortion ban after six weeks gestation) passed in states across the country. On Wednesday, Texas’ governor signed into law a six-week abortion ban that would go into affect in September. Abortion advocates are likely to challenge the ruling. These challenge Roe’s precedent declaring pre-viability abortions constitutional.
Fetal viability is the gestational age a fetus can survive outside the womb. Under current legal standards, viability can range from 24 to 28 weeks, well after Mississippi’s 15-week ban. However, most abortions occur in the first trimester (one to 13 weeks) — 88 percent according to the Guttmacher Institute.
Fox said most abortions performed after 15 weeks are done in cases of fetal abnormality or mandatory waiting periods or trouble scheduling appointments in areas of the country where abortion clinics are sparse.
Fox said she is most concerned with people thinking news like this could confuse people seeking abortions now.
“The thing that keeps me up at night when news like this breaks are people who think this is the end of access to abortion,” Fox said.
Abortion remains legal in all 50 states. A decision on this case will not be announced until June 2022.