News Analysis

Abortion Rights Fight Escalates as Mississippi Case Heads to Supreme Court

Mobilizations by Women’s Rights Supporters Needed


By Linda Loew

CHICAGO, August 8, 2021Abortion rights activists here and across the nation are headed to a showdown with anti-abortion forces because of the U.S. Supreme Court decision to hear arguments in the Mississippi case “Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.” On the high court’s docket since May 17, oral arguments could take place as soon as this fall.

This battle intensified on July 22, when the state of Mississippi explicitly urged the Supreme Court to overturn the historic 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion across the U.S.

A filing by Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch has now made reversing Roe a central part of its argument in seeking to revive its own restrictive 2018 law, banning abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. Lower courts have blocked that law as unconstitutional. Fitch’s filing declared that both the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling and the 1992 Planned Parenthood of Southeast Pennsylvania v. Casey decision, which affirmed Roe, were “egregiously wrong.”

While earlier arguments in defense of the Mississippi law sought to weaken or chip away at Roe, this new brief and others are boldly aimed at eliminating Roe and ending legal abortion.

‘Pro-life’ hypocrisy

Fitch now argues that gains made by women since 1973 mean that the high court no longer needs to assure the rights of women today. Her brief states: “[I]n 1973, there was little support for women who wanted a full family life and a successful career. Maternity leave was rare.  Paternity leave was unheard of… in these last 50 years women have carved their own way to achieving a better balance for success in their professional and personal lives.… By returning the matter of abortion policy to state legislatures, we allow a stunted debate on how we support women to flourish. It is time for the Court to let go of its hold on this important debate.”

Nancy Northup in 2016.

Women’s rights organizations strongly disagree. Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, which is representing Jackson Women’s Health Organization (JWHO) in the Dobbs case, finds the Mississippi brief shocking.

“Mississippi has stunningly asked the Supreme Court to overturn Roe and every other abortion rights decision in the last five decades,” Northup said. “Today’s brief reveals the extreme and regressive strategy, not just of this law, but of the avalanche of abortion bans and restrictions that are being passed across the country… Their goal is for the Supreme Court to take away our right to control our own bodies and our own futures—not just in Mississippi, but everywhere.”

On the heels of Mississippi’s filing, governors from 12 states, led by South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster, filed an amicus brief on July 29 also urging the Supreme Court to seize the opportunity of the Mississippi case to overturn Roe

The so-called “Fight for Life” coalition of governors is “urging the Supreme Court to reconsider and correct its previous decisions in Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood of Southeast Pennsylvania v. Casey.”  This coalition sees as its mission “to protect the lives of unborn children and defend the authority of states to regulate abortions,” McMaster said. “Today’s action is another step closer to overturning Roe v. Wade and securing the precious gift of life for an untold number of children.”

An all-out war on women disguised as ‘states’ rights’

In the guise of “states’ rights,” and even hypocritically “women’s rights,” these anti-abortion forces have helped open the floodgates of religious and right-wing opposition to the right to choose abortion across the nation. In its July report, the Guttmacher Institute declared 2021 the “worst legislative year ever for abortion rights.”  States and localities have enacted more than 90 restrictions so far this year, more than any year since the 1973 Roe decision. This year has already surpassed 2011, the previous worst year on record.

Another indication of the deepening crisis is that abortion access is growing more dire, especially where few or no clinics exist within many miles of those who need them. Abortion funds in areas where abortions remain more accessible have been logging mounting requests for aid, beefing up their staff, and trying to expand their resources to meet the need.

In the Washington DC area, groups that fund abortions for low-income patients have been experiencing an explosive surge in demand, partially a reflection of a medical crisis exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic. Deepika Srivastava, president of the DC Abortion Fund, said this past spring, “We saw our call volume essentially double overnight.” The funds they gave out to clients this past April were “more than triple the amount from April 2020.”

According to an emailed report, the Chicago Abortion Fund (CAF) has also received a record number of calls, over 100 in just seven days this July, compared to 126 calls to its helpline for the entire month of July in 2020. Fortunately, due to popular support for its work, CAF was able to fund all requests that week.

The anti-abortion forces will go to any length to drive home their message, including hypocritically citing opinions of the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who was the staunchest and most active defender of women’s rights on the Court.

“Ginsburg, who died last September, is invoked repeatedly in many of the 70 friend-of-the-court briefs urging the Supreme Court to use a Mississippi case this fall to overturn the nearly 50-year-old precedent that established a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion,” an August 8 Washington Post article reported. “Ginsburg’s disagreement with the legal reasoning in Roe is well known,” the Post continued, explaining she advocated “a woman’s right to the procedure while criticizing the decision that guaranteed it. Ginsburg said the right for a woman to end a pregnancy should be found in the Constitution’s promise of equal protection, not a privacy interest the Roe majority asserted.”

Opponents of abortion rights turn Ginsburg’s views on their head. No serious person believes Ginsburg would have lent any support to Mississippi’s restrictive law. She reiterated many times that the right to control our bodies should be the central axis of defense of abortion rights.

“It is essential to woman’s equality with man that she be the decisionmaker, that her choice be controlling,” Ginsburg told the Senate Judiciary Committee during her confirmation hearings. “If you impose restraints that impede her choice, you are disadvantaging her because of her sex.” Ginsburg also said that overturning Roe would be a “worst-case scenario” for women.

Opponents of women’s rights are pressing for an all-out war against women’s right to control our own bodies. As these assaults on abortion rights have intensified, life and death issues are at stake.

Lower courts have ruled most abortion bans and restrictions enacted by cities or states to be unconstitutional, as violations of the Roe and Casey decisions, and have blocked them from taking effect.[1] 

Northup of the Center for Reproductive Rights posed starkly what may happen next if the Supreme Court upholds the Mississippi law. “If Roe falls, half the states in the country are poised to ban abortion entirely,” she said. “Women of child-bearing age in the U.S. have never known a world in which they don’t have this basic right, and we will keep fighting to make sure they never will,” Northup affirmed.

Among the legal counteroffensives against various state abortion bans is a lawsuit filed on July 13 to stop a radical new Texas abortion ban from taking effect on September 1. Banning abortion as early as six weeks, the Texas law also has an unprecedented provision calling on private individuals to file lawsuits seeking “enforcement” of the ban.

A broad coalition of forces including abortion providers, led by Whole Woman’s Health, as well as several funds that provide aid for those who lack financial means for abortion, doctors, support networks, health center staff, and clergy members have united to seek to block the Texas law from taking effect. The Center for Reproductive Rights, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the American Civil Liberties Union, and others represent the plaintiffs.

Mobilizations to defend women’s rights needed

Abortion rights supporters are also looking to mobilize our own power in independent action. Believing that masses of people in the streets have had an impact on Supreme Court decisions in the past, including winning Roe in the first place, activists in the Chicago for Abortion Rights network have decided to act. 

About 100 people rally May 26, 2021, in Chicago on less than 24 hours notice to support a Planned Parenthood clinic that had its windows smashed and to defend a woman’s right to choose abortion. (Photo: Linda Loew)

Abortion rights supporters are planning a downtown press conference featuring a broad number of groups on September 27, the opening day of the upcoming Supreme Court session. Many women’s rights organizations, health care justice groups, public sector unions, organizations from the LGBTQ community and more, will appeal to the public to put the Court on notice that “We Will Not Go Back!” to the days of coat-hanger and back-alley abortions. Topping their list of demands is “No Abortion Bans, not now, not ever! Defend Roe!”

Appreciating that this is a national battle, and that low/no income communities and people of color are hit the hardest by restrictive abortion laws and bans, Chicago for Abortion Rights is also reaching out to organizations around the country, seeking to encourage nationally coordinated actions. The immediate goal is to defend Roe and the rights it protects as well as a vow to fight for “Accessible abortion for all!”


Linda Loew was active in the movement for legal abortion before Roe v. Wade, attending the founding conference of the Women’s National Abortion Action Coalition (WONAAC). She was an activist in WONAAC chapters in New York City and Binghamton, NY, leading up to the Roe ruling. She is a founding member and current activist in Chicago for Abortion Rights.  


ENDNOTES

[1] For more information on the avalanche of attacks on abortion rights this year see: A Woman’s Right to Choose Abortion Under Attack: Defend Roe v. Wade!

3 replies »

  1. This article clearly presents the legal maneuvers that have created potential calamity for the right to choose and therefore for all women’s rights. It also calls for the mobilization nationally to defend Roe v Wade which is critical for us to hold onto this crucial right. The hypocritical argument that the gains in other areas of women’s rights is the reason access to abortion is no longer needed is completely ridiculous. It has been the very right of women to control their own reproduction that has enabled the other gains we have won. Thank you to the author.
    Ginny Hildebrand

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