The Supreme Court agreed to take up a major abortion case that threatens to erode Roe v. Wade

Abortion protest supreme court
Abortion-rights demonstrators outside the Supreme Court in Washington on March 4. AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin File
  • The Supreme Court says it’ll take a case that could erode Roe v. Wade and affect reproductive rights.
  • The court previously allowed abortion-pill access to be limited during the coronavirus pandemic.
  • An expert told Insider arrests for seeking abortions could increase if Roe v. Wade were overturned.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The US Supreme Court on Monday announced plans to take up a major abortion case that could allow it to severely limit or overturn landmark court rulings on abortion, including Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey.

The case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, concerns a law in Mississippi that bans most abortions after 15 weeks, SCOTUSblog first noted.

The Supreme Court will consider “whether all previability prohibitions on elective abortions are unconstitutional,” according to the court’s announcement.

The Center for Reproductive Rights estimates that 34 states could cease to protect abortion rights if Roe v. Wade were to be overturned and local governments took no action.

According to Mississippi Today, the law had been previously overturned twice in federal court.

Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the only abortion provider in the state, had asked the Supreme Court not to take up the case, the report said.

The SCOTUS challenged abortion access during the pandemic

This wouldn’t be the first time the majority-conservative court had challenged reproductive rights.

In January, the Supreme Court voted to ban the abortion pill from mail delivery, making it the only prescription medication to have such restrictions, until the Biden administration reversed the ruling on April 13.

In July 2020, for the first time, the Food and Drug Administration allowed mail order of the abortion pill on a federal level. The goal was to ensure safe abortion care during the pandemic, when Americans were being urged not to travel and to avoid in-person treatments when possible.

Kate Kelly, a human-rights lawyer who is cohost of abortion-rights podcast “Ordinary Equality,” previously told Insider the SCOTUS ruling was ominous for the future of Roe v. Wade, a 1973 ruling that says pregnant women have the right to abortions without excessive government intervention.

“They intervened in something that would have naturally expired, because it was an order for during the pandemic,” Kelly said.

What would happen if Roe v. Wade were overturned

If SCOTUS rules in favor of abortion restriction in the Dobbs v. Jackson case, it would effectively overturn Roe v. Wade.

In doing so, the US would be ushered back into a context more akin to the 1950s and 1960s, when underground abortions were common, Carole Joffe, a sociologist who cowrote “Obstacle Course: The Everyday Struggle to Get an Abortion in America,” previously told Insider.

At the time, however, there wasn’t a widespread movement seeking to penalize people who got abortions – it was done under the radar, Joffe said. Of the estimated 200,000 to 1.2 million illegal abortions each year in the two decades before Roe v. Wade, only a small proportion resulted in charges or sentencing, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

Joffe expects that would change: She has argued that legal penalties post-Roe would be more common.

“Prosecution before Roe was very idiosyncratic, dependent on local factors. But if Roe falls, criminal justice officials, from the virulently anti-choice Attorney General Jeff Sessions on down to local police and district attorneys in many jurisdictions, can be expected to avidly pursue those who break the law,” Joffe wrote in a 2017 article for Rewire News Group.

In 2016, The Self-induced Abortion Legal Team, a group of lawyers who advocate abortion rights, reported that at least 17 people who sought self-medicated abortions since 2005 had faced arrests or jail time.

There are still many unknowns about cost and access if Roe v. Wade is overturned, Joffe said, since different states can make their own laws about the procedure. One thing seems certain: Abortions will continue, no matter Roe v. Wade’s future.