More than 500 current and former female athletes urge US Supreme Court to reject Mississippi law that would ban abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy
More than 500 current and former female athletes have urged the Supreme Court to reject a Mississippi law that would ban abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy.
The Biden administration has also backed Jackson Women's Health Organization, the only abortion clinic in Mississippi, in its fight over the state's attempted ban.
The legislation is at odds with the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision which granted women's rights to access abortion with limited government interference.
On December 1, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the case against the ban, titled Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization. The conservative majority justices are expected to hand down a decision by June.
In an amicus brief filed on Monday, the athletes cited the importance of 'bodily integrity and decisional autonomy' to their careers as sportswomen.
It was signed by some of the biggest names in women's sport, including Crissy Perham, an Olympic swimmer who won gold in Barcelona in 1992, soccer ace Becky Sauerbrunn, water polo star Ashleigh Johnson and Layshia Clarendon, who serves as WNBPA vice president.
'Athletic prowess depends on bodily integrity,' the brief reads. 'This reality is magnified for women athletes for whom childbearing age coincides with their competitive peak in athletics. If the State compelled women athletes to carry pregnancies to term and give birth, it could derail women's athletic careers, academic futures, and economic livelihoods at a large scale.'
Perham shared her own personal story of abortion and how it enabled her to continue her career as an athlete.
'When I was in college, I was on birth control, but I accidentally became pregnant,' the Olympian wrote.
'I wasn't ready to be a mom, and having an abortion felt like I was given a second chance at life ... I got better in school, I started training really hard, and that summer, I won my first national championship.'
She added: 'That race changed the course of my life. It opened up so many opportunities, and a year later, I made the Olympic team.'
The list of signatories includes 26 Olympians, 73 professional athletes, 276 college athletes, which also includes soccer star Megan Rapinoe as well as WNBA veterans Sue Bird, Breanna Stewart and Diana Taurasi.
The women were supported by a brief from the White House which argued that Roe v. Wade and a subsequent 1992 decision that affirmed it 'recognize 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 6-3 conservative majority, to overturn the 1973 ruling.
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 September 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 September 9 in a bid to block the measure.
It has been a long-standing 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 U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2019 reached the same conclusion.
The Supreme Court in 2016 and 2020 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.
Roe v. Wade: The landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in America
In 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court recognized a woman's constitutional right to an abortion in Roe v. Wade. The landmark ruling legalized abortion nationwide but divided public opinion and has been under attack ever since.
The case was filed in 1971 by Norma McCorvey, a 22-year-old living in Texas who was unmarried and seeking a termination of her unwanted pregnancy.
Because of state legislation preventing abortions unless the mother's life is at risk, she was unable to undergo the procedure in a safe and legal environment.
So McCorvey sued Henry Wade, the Dallas county district attorney, in 1970. The case went on to the Supreme Court, under the filing Roe vs Wade, to protect McCorvey's privacy.
Supreme Court Decision
The Supreme Court handed down the watershed 7-2 decision that a woman's right to make her own medical decisions, including the choice to have an abortion, is protected under the 14th Amendment.
In particular, that the Due Process Clause of the the 14th Amendment provides a fundamental 'right to privacy' that protects a woman's liberty to choose whether or not to have an abortion.
The landmark ruling saw abortions decriminalized in 46 states, but under certain specific conditions which individual states could decide on. For example, states could decide whether abortions were allowed only during the first and second trimester but not the third (typically beyond 28 weeks).
Among pro-choice campaigners, the decision was hailed as a victory which would mean fewer women would become seriously - or even fatally - ill from abortions carried out by unqualified or unlicensed practitioners. Moreover, the freedom of choice was considered a significant step in the equality fight for women in the country. Victims of rape or incest would be able to have the pregnancy terminated and not feel coerced into motherhood.
However, pro-lifers contended it was tantamount to murder and that every life, no matter how it was conceived, is precious. Though the decision has never been overturned, anti-abortionists have prompted hundreds of states laws since then narrowing the scope of the ruling.
One such was the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act signed by President George W. Bush in 2003, which banned a procedure used to perform second-trimester abortions.
Norma McCorvey (Jane Roe)
Following the ruling, McCorvey lived a quiet life until the 1980s when she revealed herself to be Jane Roe. McCorvey became a leading, outspoken pro-abortion voice in American discourse, even working at a women's clinic where abortions were performed.
However, she performed an unlikely U-turn in 1995, becoming a born again Christian and began traveling the country speaking out against the procedure.
In 2003, a she filed a motion to overturn her original 1973 ruling with the U.S. district court in Dallas. The motion moved through the courts until it was ultimately denied by the Supreme Court in 2005.
McCorvey died at an assisted living home in Texas in February 2017, aged 69.
'The Heartbeat bill'
Multiple governors have signed legislation outlawing abortion if a doctor can detect a so-called 'fetal heartbeat,' part of a concerted effort to restrict abortion rights in states across the country.
Under the ban doctors will be prosecuted for flouting the rules.
Abortion-rights supporters see the 'heartbeat bills' as virtual bans because 'fetal heartbeats' can be detected as early as six weeks, when women may not be aware they are pregnant.
Anti-abortion campaigners have intensified their efforts since Donald Trump was elected president and appointed two conservative justices to the US Supreme Court, hopeful they can convince the right-leaning court to re-examine Roe v. Wade.
Georgia, Ohio, Missouri, and Louisiana have enacted 'heartbeat laws' recently, and Alabama passed an even more restrictive version in May, amounting to a near total ban on abortion from the moment of conception. Other states have similar legislation pending.
Similar laws has also been passed in Arkansas, Mississippi, North Dakota, Iowa and Kentucky, though they have been blocked by courts from going into effect as legal challenges have been brought against them.