PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — The Supreme Court heard arguments Wednesday in the most serious challenge to abortion rights in the nearly 50 years since Roe v. Wade.
At issue is a controversial Mississippi law banning nearly all abortions after 15 weeks. The law directly violates the 1973 Roe vs Wade decision that made abortion a constitutional right for all women until the point of viability, around 23-24 weeks.
The appointment of Justice Amy Coney Barrett in 2020 gave the court a solid 6-3 conservative majority. It’s a dynamic that worries pro-choice advocates and encourages pro-life supporters.
“I think the stakes couldn’t be higher,” said Jamie Lockhart, the executive director of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia. “We are at a red alert moment. It’s a very real possibility that the Supreme Court allows Mississippi’s ban to stand and also a possibility they use this case to overturn Roe vs Wade.”
“This is a case that is generational, meaning there are people who have been working since 1973 to see the reversal of Roe and it could happen on this case,” said Victoria Cobb, president of the Family Foundation of Virginia. “Many pro-lifers believe Roe was wrongly decided because they created a right that was not written into the U.S. Constitution. We think these justices are sensitive to that.”
If the Supreme Court overturns Roe vs. Wade, the legality of abortion is left entirely up to the states. Which is exactly what Cobb would like to see happen.
“Our hope is that in this decision, the Supreme Court will reverse what is bad precedent in the decision of Roe. We believe that it should be a state’s right to be able to set the laws and parameters around the abortion issue and unfortunately with the decision of Roe that’s been taken off the table,” explained Cobb.
If Roe vs. Wade is overturned, 21 states already have laws in place that will make it easy to ban abortion almost immediately. This is according to the Guttmacher Institute, which tracks reproductive rights. The institute also noted five other states are “likely” to put bans in place. Fifteen states have strong laws protecting abortion.
Virginia is somewhere in the middle, according to advocates. While the commonwealth has abortions laws on the books, those laws could easily be overturned.
“Abortion is legal in Virginia it will continue to be legal in the Commonwealth of Virginia but rights are at risk because we don’t have anything in our state constitution or state code that expressly protects the right to a safe legal abortion,” explained Lockhart.
Prior to Roe vs. Wade, only four states allowed abortion. Thirty states outlawed them entirely. Sixteen states had bans in place with exceptions allowed for rape, incest or dangers to the mother’s health. Virginia fell into this latter category.
“We are in a very pivotal, critical, moment here in the commonwealth,” said Lockhart. “We cannot allow our commonwealth to be pushed back in time reinstating harmful restrictions.”
Even if the Supreme Court overturns Roe Vs. Wade, pro-life advocates acknowledge there’s still a difficult uphill battle to enact any sort of abortion ban in the commonwealth.
‘It doesn’t mean things change in Virginia overnight,” said Cobb. “In Virginia we have a long way to go to pass legislation that we would say creates a culture of life.”
It could take until June 2022 for a decision to be handed down.