The Supreme Court said Monday it will take up Mississippi’s appeal of a lower court ruling that struck down a ban on most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy.
The announcement is a boost to abortion opponents, who hoped that a newly conservative court, especially after the appointment of Justice Amy Coney Barrett, would be more receptive to abortion restrictions.
Mississippi’s was the first to reach the court from a wave of state laws intended to challenge the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which declared that access to abortion was a constitutional right.
Mississippi passed the Gestational Age Act in 2018, allowing abortions after 15 weeks only in medical emergencies or cases of severe fetal abnormality. Supporters said it was intended to regulate “inhumane procedures” and argued that a fetus was capable of detecting and responding to pain by then.
The Supreme Court has consistently ruled that states cannot restrict abortion before the age of viability, but Mississippi said it must be free to take account of advancements in medical knowledge that would shift the point of viability earlier in the pregnancy.
Federal District Court Judge Carlton Reeves struck the act down, saying the state “chose to pass a law it knew was unconstitutional to enforce a decades-long campaign, fueled by interest groups, to ask the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v Wade.”
The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the ruling, prompting the state’s appeal to the Supreme Court.
Writing for the appeals panel, Judge Patrick Higginbotham said states “may regulate abortion procedures prior to viability so long as they do not impose an undue burden on the woman’s right, but they may not ban abortions.”
The Center for Reproductive Rights, representing the state’s only abortion clinic, said the Supreme Court has consistently held that “before viability, it is for the pregnant person, and not the state, to make the ultimate decision whether to continue a pregnancy.”
Viability, defined as the time at which a life could be sustained outside the womb, “has not moved and has instead remained the same since 1992” at about 23 to 24 weeks, the group said.
The court will hear the case in the fall.