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The potential effects of the Supreme Court’s abortion case are ‘really disturbing,’ especially for low-income women and women of color, a lawyer on the case says

  • The US Supreme Court on Monday said it would hear a case about a Mississippi abortion law.
  • The ruling could have a “disturbing” impact on access to abortion, lawyer Rob McDuff told Insider.
  • Anti-abortion laws “have a particularly pronounced impact” on poor and low-income women, he said.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The US Supreme Court on Monday announced it would hear arguments in Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a case regarding a restrictive abortion law in Mississippi. The high court’s ruling could have a “disturbing” impact on abortion access in the US and override decades of legal precedent, a lawyer on the case said.

“We always knew it was a possibility, but it’s pretty rare that the Supreme Court takes a case that calls into question 50 years of precedent,” said attorney Rob McDuff in an interview with Insider on Monday. McDuff represents the Mississippi Center for Justice in the case, told Insider on Monday. 

The case concerns a 2018 Mississippi law that bans abortions after 15 weeks in gestation. Federal courts blocked the law from taking effect after the sole abortion provider in the state sued, but a ruling from the Supreme Court could reverse the decision, challenging decades-old legal precedent.

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In the past, the Supreme Court declined to review lower court rulings that had blocked harsh state abortion laws from taking effect, making its decision Monday to hear the Mississippi case all the more startling, McDuff said.

“It’s quite disturbing that the court is now taking up a case that really questions the reasoning of Roe v. Wade,” he said, referencing the 1973 landmark decision by the court that upheld a woman’s right to seek an abortion.

McDuff said he couldn’t speculate which members of the nine-person bench pushed to hear the Mississippi case, but he said the landscape of the court undoubtedly shifted following the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg last year.

President Donald Trump nominated Justice Amy Coney Barrett to fill in for Ginsburg, who was an abortion rights advocate. Barrett has previously said it was “unlikely” the Supreme Court would overturn Roe v. Wade, but suggested the rules around abortion could evolve.

“I don’t think abortion or the right to abortion would change. I think some of the restrictions would change … The question is how much freedom the court is willing to let states have in regulating abortion,” Barrett said in 2016, according to the Associated Press.

Barrett, along with the two other judges Trump nominated, Justices Neil Gorsuch, and Brett Kavanaugh, have shifted the Supreme Court’s ideological balance dramatically toward the right, sounding alarm bells for pro-choice activists.

The Mississippi Center for Justice, of which McDuff is a cofounder, is focused on advancing racial and economic justice. McDuff said anti-abortion legislation put forth in dozens of states, including Mississippi, is at odds with these goals.

“These laws have a particularly pronounced impact on poor women and women of color because it makes it more difficult for them to obtain abortions,” he said. “They can’t afford to travel out of state to a place where it might have better laws.” 

Other pro-choice organizations similarly shared concerns about the court’s decision to hear the case Monday.

“If the Supreme Court rules in favor of Mississippi, it will take the decision about whether to have an abortion away from individuals and hand it over to politicians,” said Jennifer Dalven, director of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, in a statement.

“The American people overwhelmingly support the right of individuals to make this decision for themselves and will not tolerate having this right taken away,” she added.

McDuff said he and others at the Mississippi Center for Justice would work with their counterparts on the lawsuit at the Center for Reproductive Rights, who also represent the plaintiff in the case, to create and execute a legal strategy going forward before arguing the case before the justices next year. A ruling in the case is expected sometime in June 2022.

It’s hard to predict what effect the court’s ruling would have on abortion access, McDuff said, but depending on how the court rules, it could be felt instantly in states across the US.

“The potential is really, really disturbing,” he said.

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