Yes, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization really is the biggest abortion case in decades.
Let me put it another way.
The fate of abortion rights and access for millions of people in this country could end up being decided by nine unelected justices in a closed courtroom, after about an hour of oral arguments that will likely be neither livestreamed nor open to the public. During those oral arguments, the attorneys and justices will debate the constitutionality of a piece of model legislation drafted by national anti-choice advocacy organizations and shopped around to the state lawmakers those advocates deemed most friendly to their singular cause of making Roe v. Wade “irrelevant or completely reversing it.”
That’s what makes Jackson Women’s Health the biggest abortion case in decades.
It’s not just that the Supreme Court is revisiting a central premise of Roe v. Wade—that states do not have the power to ban abortion before a fetus is viable. It’s not just that the justices conferenced on this case for eight months and over a dozen times before deciding to take it up. It’s not just that Justice Amy Coney Barrett has ties to Alliance Defending Freedom, the conservative Christian organization that pushed the Mississippi 15-week ban at the heart of this fight. Nor is it the fact that as soon as the Supreme Court announced its decision to revisit Roe, Texas lawmakers immediately upped the ante by passing the most extreme six-week abortion ban this country has ever seen.
It’s all of these points put together that makes Jackson Women’s Health the abortion rights story of our lifetimes.
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Another thing to know about the case: There is no justice here. In fact, everything about it is unjust, and even a win for abortion rights advocates should drive that point home.
What does a win for abortion rights advocates in Jackson Women’s Health really look like?
It would look like five Supreme Court justices declaring that the current patchwork of state regulations on abortion care, which already make abortion inaccessible for too many, is just and lawful. A win for abortion rights advocates would mean holding the line on abortion rights and access while the anti-choice movement launches its next attack, because there will always be another attack on abortion care from the right.
But a win for advocates would also mean the possibility of an abortion care desert stretching west from Florida to New Mexico and north to Virginia does not take hold. It would mean that laws like Texas’ draconionan six-week ban, which allows almost anyone opposed to legal abortion to act as sheriff to enforce it, do not take effect. And it would means another generation of patients and providers can grow up with legal abortion as a possibility, even if only a remote one.
In deciding to take Jackson Women’s Health, the Supreme Court signaled that the abortion rights landscape is about to change in potentially drastic ways. There’s simply no sugarcoating it. And it will be a full year before we know the outcome of the case.
Arguments in the case won’t happen until the fall, and an opinion this big is practically destined to be released at the end of the Court’s term in June 2022. So we’re still a long way out from anything close to resolution.
The easiest thing in the world would have been for the Supreme Court to stay out of this case. But that’s not why Amy Coney Barrett was confirmed to the Court. Barrett is on the Court for this moment, and she likely knows it, too. The optics of a white Christian mother rewriting abortion law canon in a way that relegates pregnant people to second-class citizens while calling it “feminist” is irresistible to the right.
That’s why Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization is the biggest abortion rights case in decades.
And as the only organization dedicated to expert repro journalism, Rewire News Group will be following and analyzing every development.