Biden calls on US Supreme Court to protect abortion rights

People are seen during a reproductive rights rally outside the US Supreme Court in Washington on Sept 9, 2021. PHOTO: NYTIMES

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - United President Joe Biden's administration urged the US Supreme Court on Monday (Sept 20) not to overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v Wade ruling that legalised abortion nationwide in an upcoming case concerning a restrictive Mississippi law.

The administration brief backs Jackson Women's Health Organisation, the only abortion clinic in Mississippi, in its fight over the state's attempt to ban the procedure after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

It said Roe v Wade and a subsequent 1992 decision that affirmed it "recognise that forcing a woman to continue a pregnancy against her will is a profound intrusion on her autonomy, her bodily integrity, and her equal standing in society."

Abortion opponents have asked the court, which has a six-three conservative majority, to overturn the 1973 ruling.

The case will be argued on Dec 1, with a ruling expected by the end of June.

Prominent women athletes including soccer star Megan Rapinoe also filed a brief on Monday backing the clinic.

Mississippi's lawyers said in papers filed with the court in July that the Roe v Wade ruling and the 1992 decision were both "egregiously wrong" and should be overturned.

The Supreme Court's central role in the fight over abortion rights was highlighted on Sept 1. In a late-night decision, the court allowed a Texas law that bans abortions after six weeks of pregnancy to stay in effect, setting off a firestorm of criticism from abortion rights advocates.

The Biden administration sued Texas on Sept 9 in a bid to block the measure. It has been a longstanding aim of religious conservatives to overturn Roe v Wade.

The court in its 1992 decision, Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v Casey, reaffirmed the ruling and prohibited laws that place an "undue burden" on a woman's ability to obtain an abortion.

Roe v Wade said that states could not ban abortion before the viability of the fetus outside the womb, which is generally viewed by doctors as between 24 and 28 weeks. The Mississippi law, enacted in 2018, would ban abortion much earlier than that. Other states like Texas have backed laws that would ban it even earlier.

After the clinic sued to block the 15-week ban, a federal judge in 2018 ruled against Mississippi. The New Orleans-based 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals in 2019 reached the same conclusion.

The Supreme Court in 2016 and last year struck down restrictive abortion laws in Texas and Louisiana, but new justices appointed by Republican former President Donald Trump have moved the court further rightward.

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