by Rana Irby
The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on December 1 in Dobbs v. Jackson, the case dealing with Mississippi’s ban on abortions after 15 weeks. The potential impact of the Court’s decision has galvanized both sides of the abortion debate. This debate includes increasing discussion of what entails freedom for women. Arguments in favor of the abortion ban have expressed a notion of freedom in which regulations are not an infringement and having children is not incompatible with women’s rights.
In 2018, the state of Mississippi passed a law banning abortions after 15 weeks, with limited exceptions. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the only licensed abortion facility in the state, sued the state to challenge the law. The decision by the Southern District Court prohibited Mississippi from enforcing the law. This court decision would be upheld by the 5th Circuit Court. The state took the case to the Supreme Court, which, as mentioned above, will be hearing the case in December. As the case has moved through the courts, arguments in favor of the ban have questioned whether abortion restrictions and childbearing impede women’s freedom.
Over the years since Roe v. Wade, justification of abortion access has shifted from the paradigm of the right to privacy to arguing abortion access is part of women’s freedom and that abortion restrictions should not place an undue burden on women. Mississippi, arguing for its abortion ban in the lower court, maintained that the ban did not impose an undue burden because it only limited the time one can get an abortion prior to viability. As the case has gained more public recognition, so has the discussion of whether abortion is essential to women’s freedom.
Of the multiple amicus briefs filed with the case, one brief by 500 female athletes was filed in support of abortion access. One of the athletes maintained that abortion was a means to free women to take control of their bodies and future. Countering this narrative was a brief submitted by 240 women scholars and professionals as well as pro-life feminist organizations. It asserted that childbearing does not have to be a hindrance to women realizing their social and economic goals. Another brief, authored by one of the authors of the aforementioned amicus brief, argued that current abortion law is harmful, rather than helpful, to women and families.
The question of what constitutes freedom for women has played a major role in the discussion of abortion since Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973. As Dobbs v. Jackson poses a potential challenge to the landmark case, the discussion has garnered significant public attention. This has led a significant number of pro-life supporters, namely women scholars and professionals, to challenge the notion of women’s freedom and childbearing being in opposition. It also challenges the idea of abortion regulations equaling a lack of freedom. Mississippi’s abortion ban, in its journey to the highest court in the land, has seen pro-lifers propose a new definition of freedom for women.