Appeal in an amicus brief in a Louisiana case was signed by 205 Republicans and two Democrats
Daniel Strauss in Washington – The Guardian
Abortion rights activists rally outside the supreme court in Washington DC, on 21 May 2019. Photograph: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters
More than two hundred members of Congress have urged the US supreme court to reconsider the landmark 1973 Roe v Wade ruling which legalized abortion nationwide.
The appeal came in an amicus brief in a Louisiana case, and was signed by 205 Republicans and two Democrats, and calls on the high court to revisit the ruling, which affirmed that access to safe abortion is a constitutional right.
It comes at a time when abortion rights in the US are increasingly under threat, and the issue is likely to become a point of fierce debate in the lead up to the 2020 US election.
“Forty-six years after Roe was decided, it remains a radically unsettled precedent: two of the seven justices who originally joined the majority subsequently repudiated it in whole or in part, 82 and virtually every abortion decision since has been closely divided,” the lawmakers argue in the brief.
“Furthermore, Roe’s jurisprudence has been haphazard from the beginning. Roe did not actually hold that abortion was a ‘fundamental’ constitutional right, but only implied it.”
The amicus brief, which is also signed by a number of conservative anti-abortion groups, underscores the strong opposition to Roe v Wade among Republicans on Capitol Hill and a few conservative Democrats and the hope that the supreme court, which now has a majority of justices appointed by Republican presidents, could review and overturn the law.
“Anti-abortion politicians are using every trick in the book to ban abortion,” Alexis McGill Johnson, acting president and CEO of Planned Parenthood, wrote on Twitter in reaction to the move. “Asking the Supreme Court to reconsider overturning Roe is an assault on our basic rights, plain and simple. Abortion is safe and legal, and we’re doing everything we can to keep it that way.”
Pro-choice advocates said the brief defies public opinion on reproductive rights. Sixty-one per cent of adults said in a 2019 Pew research survey that abortion should be legal in the US in all or most cases, compared with 38% who said it should be illegal all or most of the time.
At the state level, some new laws recently passed by Republican state legislatures amount to the tightest restrictions on abortion seen in the United States in decades. Alabama passed an outright ban last year, including for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest, unless the woman’s life is in danger.
Through the amicus brief, the lawmakers are expressing their support for a Louisiana law that requires admitting privileges at nearby hospitals for doctors who perform abortions. Opponents of the law say it is a way to pressure doctors and close abortion clinics by the back door.
The brief says the Louisiana case “illustrates the unworkability of the ‘right to abortion’ found in Roe v Wade … and the need for the court to again take up the issue of whether Roe and Casey should be reconsidered and, if appropriate, overruled”.
In March, the supreme court is expected to hear oral arguments against the Louisiana law. If the high court upholds the challenge to the law, Louisiana could be left with a single abortion provider. Opponents of that law also see it as an immediate threat to the Roe v Wade ruling.
The case will also be the first time that the Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, both appointed by Donald Trump, hear an abortion case as members of the high court.