Jan 22, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Advocates fret Roe v. Wade's 49th anniversary could be its last

Picture of pro-choice advocates marching in front of the Supreme Court, one is holding a sign that says "liberate abortion"

Photo: Leigh Vogel/Getty Images for Women's March Inc

As Saturday marks the 49th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court's landmark decision that legalized abortion access in the U.S., advocates warn the ruling is "more at risk now than ever."

The big picture: The Supreme Court in December heard a challenge to a Mississippi 15-week abortion ban that could throw Roe's survival into question, or at least narrow its scope.

What they're saying: "Roe is more at risk now than ever, and it’s possible this anniversary could be its last," said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, an abortion rights organization that is also representing the plaintiffs in the Mississippi case.

  • "For two generations, people have relied on the right to abortion to shape their lives and futures. Much of the progress that women have made towards gender equality in the last 49 years was a direct result of access to legal abortion," she added.

Abortion rights opponents, who rallied in D.C. on Friday for the annual March for Life, also felt that 2022's march could be the last "that takes place under the shadow of Roe v. Wade,"said Mallory Carroll, communications VP for the Susan B. Anthony List, an anti-abortion rights group.

Abortion rights activists have called on Congress to pass legislation that would codify the right to having an abortion in the absence of Roe.

  • The House in September passed the Women’s Health Protection Act. However, the bill is unlikely to pass in the Senate, where it does not have the necessary 60 votes to pass.
  • Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), co-chair of the Congressional Pro-Choice Caucus, told Axios that her caucus is working with Senate colleagues to find a path for WHPA to pass in Congress, adding that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said he plans take up the bill in the Senate.
  • Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.), WHPA's main sponsor, said in an interview that if her bill does not pass the Senate, she'll continue to introduce it until it becomes law.
  • "The right to access abortion services is being directly threatened by the Supreme Court," Chu said. "We need to fight to make sure that we continue to have our constitutional right to an abortion."
  • “This is about life or death. Its’ about racial, economic, and gender equality," said Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.)

Of note: White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Friday that the Biden administration is "deeply committed" to ensuring abortion access, adding that "we will defend it with every tool we have."

With a 6-3 conservative majority in the Supreme Court, "this is the moment the pro-life movement has worked tirelessly to bring about — our greatest opportunity to enact ambitious laws that save millions of lives," said Marjorie Dannenfelser, the Susan B. Anthony List president.

  • "For almost 50 years the Supreme Court has tied the hands of elected leaders nationwide as they strive to protect the unborn and their mothers, even from late-term abortions that inflict excruciating pain on children in the womb. Now, that right may finally be restored."

What we're watching: With the midterm elections happening later this year, Democrats could lose control of Congress, which would be a major blow for the abortion rights movement.

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