Supreme Court to hear arguments on Roe v Wade abortion law

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption The Supreme Court will hear arguments on its Roe v Wade abortion case on Friday

The US Supreme Court is to hear arguments on Friday about an appeal by Mississippi in a landmark case with implications for the future of the country’s abortion laws.

Abortion clinics in Mississippi have been ordered by the Supreme Court to stop offering legal terminations because, the state says, it is not meeting the standards set by the FDA for what constitutes a medical abortion.

Mississippi is in a minority of states that have yet to comply with the standards set by the FDA as part of its Safe Abortion Act.

The dispute over abortion, which is usually available across the US at clinics across the country, has roots in a 1973 ruling by the Supreme Court’s former most liberal member, liberal justice Thurgood Marshall.

That case, Roe v Wade, established a constitutional right to abortion.

What is the Safe Abortion Act?

The FDA stipulates that for all abortions that use drugs, including mifepristone and misoprostol, women must take the drugs through a first-trimester abortion and finish them in the first trimester.

Congress, which is dominated by Republicans and was under Republican control when the law was passed, amended it in 2012 by placing a 40-hour deadline. This had the effect of forcing many clinics that offered abortions to cease their work or move to a more remote area.

But the Mississippi clinics argued this was in contravention of the Constitution.

Image copyright AFP/Getty Images Image caption Presiding Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement forces him to retire earlier than he would have liked

What does the US Constitution say about abortion?

The US Constitution does not prohibit abortion in any way.

Although in recent years Republican President Donald Trump has sought to restrict abortion by promoting bills that would make it easier to ban abortions after 20 weeks, the Constitution does not allow the states to regulate it.

The text of the Constitution only provides that a state may not “abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States”.

But the Supreme Court has ruled that the Constitution’s “due process clause” means the state may not arbitrarily interfere with a woman’s right to choose.

In the landmark 1973 Roe v Wade decision, the Supreme Court established a constitutional right to abortion, both by reason of what the law says about abortion, but also by reference to the judgment on due process.

It noted that the US Constitution does not contain any “presumption in favour of marriage” – in other words, no state should be allowed to deny any woman, no matter what her marital status, a right to an abortion.

What is the Mississippi Supreme Court deciding?

In January 2016, Mississippi lost a lawsuit brought by the ACLU and the Southern Poverty Law Center.

In court papers, the two groups argued that Mississippi should be forbidden from requiring abortion clinics to be physically separate from the normal flow of patients.

The groups also said Mississippi’s law – as well as some similar laws in other states – constituted an “unconstitutional new federal intrusion” into what is constitutionally a matter for the states.

On 21 November 2016, Judge Carlton Reeves ruled against Mississippi. He allowed the Mississippi statute to remain in place, but said it would be at risk of being struck down in the future.

But on Monday, Reeves released a written order remanding the case back to the state supreme court.

That court will hear arguments from Jackson Women’s Health Organization (JWHO) in Jackson, Mississippi on Friday.

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