How Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Could Change Our Abortion Debate

The Supreme Court recently announced it will take up Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a challenge to a Mississippi law that all but bans abortions after 15 weeks. It’s the first case in years that could result in the overturning of Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 ruling that, along with a companion case, Doe v. Bolton, legalized abortion on demand everywhere in the country. 

A ruling probably won’t come until next summer, which is plenty of time for everyone to lose their minds.

The outright overturning of Roe is just one possibility, and not necessarily the most likely. My colleague David French, a prominent lawyer and court watcher, argues that the most likely outcome is a narrower ruling that upholds Dobbs without fully overturning Roe. This, French writes, would establish a “new standard that permits greater abortion regulation without explicitly permitting abortion bans.” It’s anyone’s guess what that standard would be, but one possibility is keeping abortion fully legal in the first trimester while permitting states to impose greater restrictions afterward. 

For ardent abortion-rights activists, this would be a massive setback and would be denounced as a calamity. But since roughly 90 percent of abortions are performed in the first trimester, one could argue that it would go a long way toward making the right to most abortions more constitutionally and politically secure than ever before. If so, pro-life activists might be just as mad as their pro-choice opponents. 

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