Pro-life, pro-choice lawmakers brace for historic Supreme Court abortion arguments

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Pro-life and pro-choice members of Congress are bracing for a critical day in the United States’ decades-long abortion debate Wednesday when the Supreme Court will hear arguments in a case with the potential to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 48-year-old precedent that guarantees a right to an abortion.

The justices will sit for oral arguments in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a case over a Mississippi law that bans abortion after 15 weeks. The case is highly anticipated in light of the new 6-3 Republican-appointed majority on the Supreme Court, and people on both sides of the debate believe Roe could be in jeopardy.

David Trujillo holds a sign as a school bus drives by on the street in front of a building housing an abortion provider in Dallas, Thursday, Oct. 7, 2021.
(AP Photo/LM Otero)

“I believe this court will take up the legal arguments, will take up the scientific examination, and will relook at Roe v. Wade in a whole new way,” Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., said in a press conference Tuesday. 

“The U.S. is an outlier as relates to where our laws are today. In fact, just seven countries in the world allow late-term abortions. One of those is the United States. A couple of others are North Korea and China,” Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., added. 

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said Tuesday that GOP-backed laws like the one in Mississippi are “clearly unconstitutional, designed to overturn decades of established precedent.”

“We have a court, which is putting in doubt” the law of the land for half a century, Hoyer added, lamenting that the Supreme Court justices would even hear such a case. He said it “flies in the face of years of precedent by challenging Roe v. Wade.” 

Rep. Mondaire Jones, D-N.Y., went further in his criticism of the court and demanded that Congress pack it with Democrat-appointed justices. 

“The far-right Supreme Court is hellbent on repealing Roe and outlawing reproductive freedom. We can’t let that happen,” he tweeted. “Time is of the essence. We must expand the Court.”

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    Caroline McDonald, left, a student at Georgetown University, Lauren Morrissey, with Catholics for Choice, and Pamela Huber, of Washington, join an abortion-rights rally outside the Supreme Court, Monday, Nov. 1, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)

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    People gather at an anti-abortion rally outside of the Supreme Court in Washington, Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2021, as activists begin to arrive ahead of arguments on abortion at the court in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Daines, however, noted that the Supreme Court will not be banning reproductive freedom if it strikes down Roe. 

“Overturning Roe v. Wade does not ban abortion nationwide,” he said. “Rather, it’ll return the power is back to the states.”

The case won’t be decided Wednesday. The Supreme Court will likely issue a ruling sometime in the spring. 

But the in-person arguments will provide the public with an opportunity to glean which way the justices may be leaning based on their questioning of the two sides. It also is the last opportunity lawyers on each side of the case have to make their cases before the decision rests solely in the hands of the nine members of the High Court. 

“I will be praying for our justices, the attorneys who were delivering oral arguments tomorrow,” Sen. Mike Braun, R-Ind., said Tuesday. “Because I can’t think of a more consequential case.”

“We must ensure that women’s health care providers are protected and a woman’s access to health care is not determined by where she lives,” Hoyer said. “Hopefully we will not go there again.” 

Members of the Supreme Court pose for a group photo at the Supreme Court in Washington, Friday, April 23, 2021. Seated from left are Associate Justice Samuel Alito, Associate Justice Clarence Thomas, Chief Justice John Roberts, Associate Justice Stephen Breyer and Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor. Standing from left are Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh, Associate Justice Elena Kagan, Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch and Associate Justice Amy Coney Barrett. (Erin Schaff/The New York Times via AP, Pool)

While both sides believe Roe is fundamentally at risk, many legal scholars think that the court may simply scale back or weaken the precedent rather than completely overturn it. Lankford said he would not be happy with such a result, but that it would not make him rethink the GOP’s recent Supreme Court picks. 

“I would be disappointed if we don’t allow states to make a decision just based on what the Roe decision was in 1973. It was… such a faulty foundation in its own judicial argument and it created out of whole cloth this viability standard, which was completely arbitrary,” Lankford said. 

“If anyone can tell you how a justice is going to decide on any given case in the process, good luck on that. Our goal through the process in at least the time that I’ve been here, [with respect to] the Supreme Court, is to be able to select justices that will be close to the law,” he added. “We’re not able to ask them exactly how they’re going to rule on every individual case.”

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