On Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear a case out of Mississippi that could eliminate a pregnant person’s right to an abortion. The law in question bans abortion at 15 weeks gestation, significantly before viability. With this case as a vehicle, the Mississippi attorney general has explicitly called on the high court to strike down Roe v. Wade.
The case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, turns on the issue of viability. Supreme Court precedent protects the right to abortion before a fetus can survive outside of the womb, usually around 24 weeks; states can’t pass laws that present an “undue burden” for someone seeking an abortion before that point. While a total ban before viability would undermine Roe, many experts think the Supreme Court might allow it anyway. Because the one clinic in Mississippi only performs abortions up to 16 weeks, lawyers may argue, a 15-week ban does not constitute an undue burden.
I have no idea what the Supreme Court is going to do. We won’t know until they come out with their decision in June. While we wait, many abortion clinics in the state have already started to prepare for a future without constitutionally protected abortion access. This is something I’ve seen a lot in my reporting: After 50 years, many people tend to assume that the right to abortion is “safe.” Clinics in abortion battleground states operate under the opposite assumption. And recently, the clinics have been right.
I arrived at Houston Women’s Reproductive Services, an abortion clinic in Houston, on the morning of Aug. 30, two days before Texas’s six-week abortion ban was slated to take effect. While many of my sources believed the ban would be struck down, declared unconstitutional like the dozen other “heartbeat” bills that had passed in other states, the clinic was readying itself for a near-total ban on abortion.
With a full schedule and four phones ringing nonstop, staff members delivered the same bad news, over and over.
“Unfortunately, our next available appointment isn’t until Thursday,” they told each patient further than six weeks along. Texas Senate Bill 8 would take effect Wednesday. “You’ll have to leave the state.”
Almost three months later, the Texas abortion ban remains in effect, as Texas providers and advocates await a decision from the Supreme Court. Every time I call a Texas abortion provider to ask about the latest development — the doctors who have quit, the injunction that was lifted after two days, the other states poised to copy S.B. 8 — they are discouraged, but not at all surprised.
It’s what they’ve been expecting.
Between the Texas and Mississippi cases, this is an unprecedented term for abortion on the Supreme Court. I’ll continue to watch what happens. In the meantime, you can check out more of The Washington Post’s coverage: