Conservative justices on the U.S. Supreme Court seemed poised to uphold Mississippi’s ban on abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy and possibly do away with the nationwide right to abortion altogether, a decision that could have lasting effects in the Inland Northwest.
The justices heard arguments Wednesday, and conservatives on the court – who currently hold a 6-3 majority – indicated they would likely uphold the Mississippi law. It could signal the biggest shift in abortion rights since Roe v. Wade in 1973.
Upholding the Mississippi law could undermine the court’s previous rulings in Roe and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which both allow states to regulate abortion to the point of viability, about 24 weeks, but not ban it. The court could decide to remove the “viability” piece, opening the door for states to regulate abortion at any point. It could also do away with Roe and Casey altogether.
The Guttmacher Institute, an abortion-rights advocacy organization, estimates abortion could become illegal or restricted in 26 states, including Idaho.
“We are at a crisis point,” said Paul Dillon, vice president of public affairs at Planned Parenthood of Greater Washington and North Idaho. “This really is a case that could unravel the constitutional right to abortion.”
Idaho has restrictions on abortions, including requiring patients to receive counseling at least 24 hours prior to having an abortion. If Roe is overturned, however, a “trigger law” passed in Idaho last year would go into effect and ban most abortions.
The Idaho Legislature in 2020 passed a law that would ban all abortions except in cases of rape, incest or to protect the life of the mother. The law was written to take effect 30 days after a Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe.
Receiving an abortion would be considered a felony, punishable by up to five years in prison.
Gov. Brad Little signed the 2020 bill into law, as well as a law this year that would make abortions illegal after five or six weeks of pregnancy. The law, known as a “fetal heartbeat” law, is similar to that currently in effect in Texas. The bill would not go into effect if the court upholds Mississippi’s law, but if Roe is overturned altogether, Idaho’s more restrictive 2020 law would go into effect, superceding the fetal heartbeat law.
Idaho has a history of anti-abortion laws, but after former President Donald Trump was elected, even more legislation was passed, Dillon said. All three justices appointed by Trump indicated Wednesday they would uphold the Mississippi law.
Little signed onto an amicus brief for the Mississippi case in July. The brief, which was signed by 11 other governors, argued the Court should overrule Roe and Casey because there is no constitutional right to an abortion. Therefore, it should be left to states to control.
“Protecting the lives of preborn babies has always been and will continue to be a priority of mine,” Little said in a statement at the time. “I am also a defender of state sovereignty. My decision to join this lawsuit to protect lives and states’ rights reflects my conservative approach to constitutional interpretation.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1,257 abortions were performed in Idaho in 2018. That’s about 3.7 out of 100,000 people. About 4% of those were performed for out-of-state residents.
Washington has had legalized abortion since 1970, before Roe went into effect. The state allows abortions up until the point of viability. There are currently no laws on the books that would restrict abortions that would go into effect if Roe is overturned.
“This is an attack on women to make their own health care decisions. Their families, it’s up to them,” said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., a former chair of the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee. “To have politicians decide to me is just frightening, and I expect a lot of voters will react to that.”
Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson signed onto a brief in support of the Jackson Women’s Health Organization, saying the Mississippi law is unconstitutional. He said in a statement health care decisions should be made by an individual and health care provider, “not by government officials pushing their own agenda.”
But one of the biggest impacts Washington would see if Roe is overturned is the number of out-of-state residents who would come into the state to receive an abortion.
According to the CDC, 17,264 abortions were performed in Washington in 2018. That’s about 11.5 out of 100,000 people. About 5% of those were from out-of-state residents.
If Roe is completely overturned, the Guttmacher Institute estimates Washington is likely to see a 385% increase in people who drive from other states for abortion care, mostly from Idaho and Montana.
Dillon said Washington already is seeing an influx of patients coming from as far as Texas to get an abortion. About half of patients at their Pullman clinic are from out of state, and many patients at their Spokane clinic are from others states, too.
Many pro-life advocates saw Wednesday’s arguments as a win.
Americans United for Life, an anti-abortion group, tweeted it was encouraged after the oral arguments, saying “all of the necessary facts were presented and discussed.”
“We are grateful!” the tweet read.
Washington State Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, issued a statement Wednesday saying he always believed Roe and Casey were “wrongfully decided.” Padden has introduced pro-life legislation in Washington.
“The court is balancing a fundamental issue of human rights against the legal right Roe found hidden in the shadows of the constitution,” Padden said in a statement.
The court will likely issue its decision in June.
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