WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) — The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments Wednesday in the most consequential abortion case in a generation.
It centers on a Mississippi law that bans the procedure after 15 weeks of pregnancy.
Supporters of the measure are asking the justices to end the constitutional right to abortion, and opponents worry this could be the case and the court to do it.
Hundreds from both sides filled the sidewalk and street in front of the high court, with dueling chants like, “Abortion bans have got to go!” and “Roe v. Wade has got to go!” ringing out all morning.
“If you think abortion is murder, don’t get one,” Jessy Rosales said.
Rosales traveled to Washington to fight for other women’s rights to make the same decision she did: to end her pregnancy.
“That part was not hard for me,” she said. “It was the fact that I was not able to access my legal right to abortion that was awful, that was scary, that was isolating.”
Rosales struggled to find an abortion clinic in California that accepted her student health insurance at the time before ending her pregnancy around 16 weeks.
“I realize that it’s not always an easy decision, and it’s not always easy to have a child,” said Delia Tuttlebee. “But if you recognize that that is a child, there’s no circumstance that can justify killing and ending the life of that child.”
Tuttlebee traveled from Jackson, MS, the home of the state’s lone abortion clinic, in support of her state’s 15-week ban.
Under two previous U.S. Supreme Court decisions, Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, states can regulate but not ban abortion prior to a fetus’ viability, which is around 24 weeks.
“Life begins at conception,” Tuttlebee said. “That’s very clear.”
“Abortion has been around as long as pregnancies have been around,” Rosales said. “That’s just what it is.”
With Congress just across the street, many lawmakers joined the crowd to not only debate whether the Constitution guarantees the right to an abortion, but also what the viability line should be.
“That’s totally arbitrary,” said Rep. Jim Himes, D-CT, in reference to Mississippi’s 15-week ban.
Himes argues the choice should fall to each individual woman, but Sen. Roger Marshall, R-KS, said states should be able to set their own regulations.
“We know babies can feel pain at at least 15 weeks,” Marshall said.
During the oral arguments, the justices questioned the viability line as well.
“Why is 15 weeks not enough time?” Chief Justice John Roberts asked.
Several of the justices also pointed to the political nature of the case, with Justice Sonia Sotomayor noting how supporters of the Mississippi ban said the court’s new 6-3 conservative majority gave them the confidence to move forward.
“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.
The high court had never agreed to hear a case over an abortion ban this early in pregnancy until all three appointees of former President Donald Trump, Justices Brett Kavanaugh, Neil Gorsuch and Amy Coney Barrett, were on the bench.
During the arguments, Kavanaugh suggested the ultimate decision on abortion should not fall to the court.
“The Constitution is neither pro-life nor pro-choice on the question of abortion,” he said. “But leaves the issue to the people of the states or perhaps Congress to resolve in the democratic process.”
The justices are not expected to hand down a decision until this summer, but if they would overturn Roe and Casey, about half the states in the country have laws in place that would automatically ban abortion.