In the most important abortion case before the Supreme Court in decades, conservative justices on Wednesday signaled support for a restrictive Mississippi law banning abortions after 15 weeks -- a ruling that would undermine or outright overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade legalizing the procedure nationwide.
The court, which has a 6-3 conservative majority, heard about two hours of oral arguments.
Lawyers for Mississippi argued the court should not only uphold the state's law but overturn Roe as well.
"Where we're running on 50 years of Roe. It is an egregiously wrong decision that has inflicted tremendous damage on our country and will continue to do so and take innumerable human lives unless and until this court overrules it…”
But Conservative Chief Justice John Roberts seemed to indicate that the court could uphold the Mississippi law without overturning Roe
"Why is 15 weeks not enough time?”
Roe determined that states cannot ban abortion before a fetus is viable outside the womb, generally viewed by doctors as between 24 and 28 weeks.
But Roberts said 15 weeks was “not a dramatic departure from viability.”
Julie Rikelman, the lawyer arguing for the abortion clinic that challenged the Mississippi law, said disregarding viability would unleash a cascade of restrictions.
"Without viability, there will be no stopping point. States will rush to ban abortion at virtually any point in pregnancy. Mississippi itself has a six week ban that it's defending with very similar arguments as it's using to defend the 15-week ban."
Conservative Justice Brett Kavanaugh wondered if the court should be "neutral" on abortion rights, which would require overturning Roe.
"The Constitution is neither pro-life nor pro-choice on the question of abortion, and they would say therefore it should be left to the people, to the states, or to Congress."
Rikelman: "I don't think it would be a neutral position. The Constitution provides a guarantee of liberty. The court has interpreted that liberty to include the ability to make decisions related to child-bearing, marriage and family. Women have an equal right to liberty under the Constitution, Your Honor. And if they're not able to make this decision, if states can take control of women's bodies and force them to endure months of pregnancy and childbirth, then they will never have equal status under the Constitution."
Kavnaugh asked U.S. Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar the same question.
"Why should this court be the arbiter rather than Congress, the state legislatures..."
"The court correctly recognized this is a fundamental right of women. And the nature of fundamental rights is that it's not left up to state legislatures to decide whether to honor them or not."
During the arguments, the court's three liberal justices sternly warned against ditching important and longstanding legal precedents like Roe.
Liberal Justice Sonia Sotomayor suggested other major precedents including those on gay rights might also be threatened should Roe fall.
"Will this institution survive the stench that this creates in the public perception that the Constitution and its reading are just political acts? I don't see how it is possible."
With the court’s 6-3 conservative majority, anti-abortion advocates believe they are closer than ever to overturning Roe.
A ruling is expected to rule by the end of June.