What is Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization?
by Ashley Crary Lidow & Maya Ward on Dec 8, 2021
Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization is the most consequential abortion rights case in generations. In Dobbs, the U.S. Supreme Court will consider a Mississippi abortion ban that directly challenges Roe v. Wade.
- Roe v. Wade: Landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision that affirmed the constitutional right to abortion before fetal viability.
- To be clear: VIABILITY IS NOT A MEDICAL TERM. Every pregnancy is different, and fetal viability is different for every pregnancy. Viability is a LEGAL STANDARD that was established in Roe v. Wade.
- Planned Parenthood v. Casey – Established the concept of “Undue Burden”
- In Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, the Court preserved constitutional protection for the right to abortion. But it adopted a new and weaker test for evaluating restrictive abortion laws. Under the “undue burden test,” state regulations can survive constitutional review so long as they do not place a “substantial obstacle in the path of a woman seeking an abortion of a nonviable fetus.”
Core Legal Issue of Dobbs:
In Dobbs, the U.S. Supreme Court will consider whether bans on abortion before viability are unconstitutional.
- In its opening brief, Mississippi explicitly and repeatedly asked the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade—and to rule that there is no right to abortion protected by the U.S. Constitution.
- This case is a direct challenge to Roe’s core holding: that every person has the right to decide whether to continue their pregnancy prior to viability.
- There’s no middle ground: Any ruling upholding Mississippi’s ban guts the central holding of Roe and our right to make fundamental decisions about our lives, our futures, and our families.
- If Roe falls, half the states in the country are poised to ban abortion entirely, leaving even more people across large swaths of the South and Midwest without access to care.
- Multiple generations have relied on the constitutionally protected right to abortion to make fundamental decisions about their health, lives, and futures.
- What’s happening in Texas today should be a warning for what is at stake in this case. On September 1, Texas implemented a draconian ban that has eliminated almost all abortion access in the state, forcing people to travel long distances or carry their pregnancies to term against their will.
How will the results of Dobbs impact South Carolina?
SC is a hostile state to reproductive rights, that will not change.
- The results of this case will serve to either embolden anti-choice legislators to push for more restrictions in South Carolina or will help strengthen our movement, either way, we have a tough fight ahead of us. We will share updates on what we see coming up in South Carolina as we get closer to the legislative session.
- Remember: The impact of abortion restrictions and bans fall hardest on Black, Indigenous, and people of color, people with disabilities, people in rural areas, young people, immigrants, and those having difficulty making ends meet, often in the South and Midwest, because they already face discriminatory obstacles to health care.
Check out this helpful visual from the New York Times to see how the impact of Dobbs could be seen across the country. Notice South Carolina has a black line around it, indicating that it is likely to eliminate abortion.
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What could happen? And when?
There are three possible outcomes of Dobbs:
- Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade and allows states to ban abortion before viability.
- Supreme Court allows states to ban abortion pre-viability when the ban does not “burden a substantial number” of people seeking abortion care. (this is where Planned Parenthood v. Casey comes in)
- Supreme Court upholds Roe v. Wade and does not permit states to ban abortion pre-viability.
(Photo Credit to KFF.org. Learn more about these outcomes here.)
Oral arguments for the case happened on December 1, 2021. A decision will likely be issued between April and June 2022. We will keep you updated as we learn more.
What can you do? Here are 3 steps you can take to defend abortion access.
- Financially support state, local, and grassroots organizations (including WREN) that are working every day to ensure that abortion is accessible, affordable, and supported in their communities.
- Join our outreach team. WREN is gathering a team of advocates across the state who will be ready to go when it’s time to advocate for our rights.
- Share this blog with others to educate them about Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. You can easily share the blog on social media by sharing our posts on Facebook and Twitter.
In the coming months, there will be many opportunities to discuss this case and take action to support abortion rights. To prepare you for those conversations and actions here are some talking points and explainers. Special thanks to the Center for Reproductive Rights for putting these together.
Our Right to Access Abortion is Essential.
- The right to decide whether or when to have a child is essential for social, economic, and racial equality, reproductive autonomy, and the right to determine our own futures.
- And it is critical to achieving Reproductive Justice, which is “the human right to maintain personal bodily autonomy, have children, not have children, and parent the children we have in safe and sustainable communities,” as defined by SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective.
- The Supreme Court has repeatedly recognized the fundamental importance of the right to abortion to a person’s participation in the social and economic life of the nation—and that generations have relied on this right to shape their lives and futures.
The Court Must Affirm Our Constitutional Right to Abortion:
- The only outcome consistent with the rule of law is for the Supreme Court to strike down Mississippi’s abortion ban.
- For nearly 50 years, the Supreme Court has affirmed over and over again that the Constitution guarantees the right to abortion. And based on this precedent, Mississippi’s ban was easily and decisively struck down in lower courts.
- Precedent requires that the Supreme Court strike down Mississippi’s ban and affirm the constitutional right to abortion.
- Every argument Mississippi makes for overturning Roe has been considered and rejected by the Supreme Court before.
The Rule of Law and the Integrity of the Court are on the Line.
- This is a pivotal moment for the Supreme Court to demonstrate that it decides cases based on precedent and rule of law, not politics or ideology.
- The Supreme Court has repeatedly affirmed the constitutional right to abortion, including just last year in June Medical Services v. Russo. The only thing that has changed since then is the composition of the Court.
- Unless the Court is to be seen as representing nothing more than the views of its current membership, it is critical that judicial protection for abortion hold firm. Nothing has changed in the 50 years since Roe or the 30 years since Casey that could justify turning back on the Constitution’s protection for the right to abortion.
More of a visual learner? On December 3rd, Ann and Maya recapped the SCOTUS case and shared ways that you can get involved. Watch it here.