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In U.S. Supreme Court case, the past could be the future on abortion By Reuters


© Reuters. Barbara Phillips, who in 1973 needed to fly to New York to obtain an abortion, speaks with a reporter in Oxford, Mississippi, U.S., October 26, 2021. Picture taken October 26, 2021. REUTERS/Karen Pulfer Focht


By Lawrence Hurley

OXFORD, Miss. (Reuters) – Just months earlier than she was set to begin legislation college in the summer season of 1973, Barbara Phillips was shocked to study she was pregnant.

Then 24, she wished an abortion. The U.S. Supreme Court had legalized abortion nationwide months earlier with its landmark Roe v. Wade ruling recognizing a girl’s constitutional proper to terminate a being pregnant. But abortions weren’t legally obtainable at the time in Mississippi, the place she lived in the small city of Port Gibson.

Phillips, a Black girl enmeshed in the civil rights motion, could really feel her dream of turning into a lawyer slipping away.

“It was devastating. I was desperate,” Phillips mentioned, sitting on the patio of her cozy one-story home in Oxford, a school city about 160 miles (260 km) north of Jackson, Mississippi’s capital.

At the time of the Roe ruling, 46 of the 50 U.S. states had some kind of felony prohibitions on abortion. Access typically was restricted to rich and well-connected ladies, who tended to be white.

With a feminist group’s assist, Phillips situated a health care provider in New York prepared to supply an abortion. New York earlier than Roe was the solely state that allow out-of-state ladies receive abortions. She flew there for the process.

Now 72, Phillips doesn’t remorse her abortion. She went on to attend Northwestern (NASDAQ:) legislation college in Chicago and notice her aim of turning into a civil rights lawyer, with an extended profession. Years later, she had a son when she felt the time was proper.

“I was determined to decide for myself what I wanted to do with my life and my body,” Phillips mentioned.

U.S. abortion rights are below assault in contrast to any time since the Roe ruling, with Republican-backed restrictions being handed in quite a few states. The Supreme Court on Dec. 1 is about to listen to arguments in a case by which Mississippi is in search of to revive its legislation, blocked by decrease courts, banning abortion after 15 weeks of being pregnant. Mississippi has raised the stakes by explicitly asking the court docket, which has a 6-3 conservative majority, to overturn Roe v. Wade.

Such a ruling could flip again the clock in Mississippi, which at the moment has only one abortion clinic, and different states to the sort of surroundings on abortion entry that Phillips skilled practically a half century in the past.

Large swathes of America could return to an period by which ladies who wish to finish a being pregnant face the selection of present process a doubtlessly harmful unlawful abortion, touring lengthy distances to a state the place the process stays authorized and obtainable or shopping for abortion capsules on-line.

Mississippi’s abortion legislation shouldn’t be the just one being examined at the Supreme Court. The justices on Nov. 1 heard arguments in challenges to a Texas legislation banning abortion at about six weeks of being pregnant, however haven’t but dominated.


Mississippi is certainly one of a dozen states with so-called set off legal guidelines that might instantly ban abortion in all or most instances if Roe is overturned, in line with the Guttmacher Institute, a analysis group that helps abortion rights.

Many are in the South, so a Mississippi girl would be unable to acquire an abortion in neighboring Louisiana, Arkansas, Tennessee or Alabama. The nearest states the place abortion would stay authorized, no less than in the brief time period, would be Illinois and Florida.

The common distance a Mississippi girl would wish to drive to achieve a clinic would improve from 78 miles to 380 miles (125 to 610 km) every means, in line with Guttmacher.

While some abortion rights advocates concern a return to grisly unlawful back-alley abortions, there was an vital growth since the pre-Roe period: abortion capsules. Mississippi is amongst 19 states imposing restrictions on medication-induced abortions.

Mississippi officers are cagey on what a post-Roe world would possibly appear like. Republican Attorney General Lynn Fitch, who requested the court docket to overturn Roe, declined an interview request, as did Republican Governor Tate Reeves.

Mississippi Commissioner of Agriculture and Commerce Andy Gipson, who as a Republican state legislator helped shepherd the 2018 passage of the 15-week ban, referred to as Roe v. Wade “antiquated, old law based on antiquated and old science.”

Gipson in an interview declined to reply questions on what Mississippi – or the southeastern United States – would be like with out abortion rights, focusing on the specifics of the 15-week ban.

“It’s a false narrative to paint this as a picture of an outright ban throughout the southeast,” Gipson mentioned, noting that the Supreme Court doesn’t should formally overturn Roe to uphold Mississippi’s legislation.

In court docket papers, Fitch mentioned scientific advances, together with contested claims {that a} fetus can detect ache early in a being pregnant, emphasize how Roe and a subsequent 1992 determination that reaffirmed abortion rights are “decades out of date.”

Abortion rights advocates have mentioned any ruling upholding Mississippi’s legislation would successfully intestine Roe, giving states unfettered energy to restrict or ban the process.

Phillips worries a few revival of harmful, unregulated abortions that imperil ladies’s lives.

“I’m afraid that many more women and girls will be in back alleys,” Phillips mentioned. “I’m worried we are going to find them in country roads, dead.”


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