By MARK SHERMAN
WASHINGTON (AP) — Members of the Supreme Court’s conservative majority are suggesting they may make sweeping changes to limit abortion rights in the United States.
The high court is hearing arguments Wednesday in which the justices are being asked to overrule the court’s historic 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion and its 1992 ruling in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which reaffirmed Roe. Under those decisions, states can regulate but not ban abortion up until the point of viability, at roughly 24 weeks.
Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito were among those who questioned the viability line, with Alito referencing those who have said the line “really doesn’t make any sense.”
The court is hearing a case about a Mississippi ban on abortion after 15 weeks. The state of Mississippi is telling the justices that Roe and Casey should be overturned and its law banning abortion after 15 weeks upheld.
“Why is 15 weeks not enough time?” Roberts asked at one point during the arguments, which stretched over an hour and a half.
ustice Brett Kavanaugh, one of the conservatives, suggested the court should leave the issue of abortion to Congress and the states and “return to the position of neutrality.”
Earlier in the arguments the Supreme Court’s three liberal justices said that reversing Roe and Casey would severely damage the court’s legitimacy.
Justice Elena Kagan said the court doesn’t easily overturn past decisions. That prevents people from thinking “this court is a political institution” and “will go back and forth depending on changes to the court’s membership.”
Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Stephen Breyer also suggested overturning the court’s abortion precedents could damage the court.
“Will this institution survive the stench that this creates in the public perception that the Constitution and its reading are just political acts?” Sotomayor asked. She later added: “If people actually believe that it’s all political how will we survive? How will the court survive?”
It’s possible the justices just uphold the Mississippi law and says nothing more, but abortion rights supporters say that would still effectively overturn Roe.
Supporters of both sides in the abortion debate filled the sidewalk and street in front of the court, their dueling rallies audible even from inside the building. Some carried signs reading “Her Body Her Choice” and “God Hates the Shedding of Innocent Blood.” The court stepped up security measures, including closing off some streets around the building.
The case comes to a court with a 6-3 conservative majority that has been transformed by three appointees of President Donald Trump, who had pledged to appoint justices he said would oppose abortion rights.
The court had never agreed to hear a case over an abortion ban so early in pregnancy until all three Trump appointees — Justices Kavanaugh, Neil Gorsuch, and Amy Coney Barrett — were on board.