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More Than 200 Members Of Congress Ask Supreme Court To Reconsider Roe V. Wade


More than 200 members of Congress are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to reconsider its landmark Roe v. Wade decision, which guarantees the right to an abortion. In a brief submitted this past week, the mostly Republican members of the U.S. House and Senate describe Roe and other court decisions protecting abortion rights as unworkable. They argued that the Supreme Court should reconsider those precedents when it takes up a key abortion case, June Medical Services v. Gee, in March. It will be the first major abortion case before the court since President Trump's two conservative nominees, Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, joined the bench.

Cynthia Soohoo is a professor at the City University of New York School of Law. Professor Soohoo, welcome to the program.

CYNTHIA SOOHOO: Thanks for having me.

MCCAMMON: First of all, if you could just remind us what's at stake in this upcoming case, which centers on the constitutionality of an abortion law from Louisiana - what would that law do?

SOOHOO: The law would require that doctors who provide abortions have admitting privileges at hospitals within 30 miles from the location at which they provide an abortion. The Supreme Court actually decided this very issue in 2016 in its last major abortion case, Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt. And in that case, the Supreme Court found that the same type of admitting privileges law was unconstitutional because it imposed an undue burden on women's access to abortion.

MCCAMMON: So why do you think the court is taking this up again?

SOOHOO: There's two reasons. I think, one, some people have said that there's a real dispute within the lower courts, still, in terms of how Whole Woman's Health should be interpreted. I think the other view could be that the lower courts are sort of sensing that there's been a change at the Supreme Court and that the court's view on the undue burden standard might be different, given the change in the court's composition.

MCCAMMON: Of course, the bigger question when it comes to abortion rights is, will the Supreme Court ultimately overturn Roe v. Wade and another decision, Planned Parenthood v. Casey? What does it mean for these members of Congress to ask the court to reconsider these decisions?

SOOHOO: Well, I think it's really an unusual step, and I think it shows how much the issue of abortion has become politicized. I would note that, actually, there was another brief that was filed on behalf of clinics signed by almost 200 members of Congress on the other side. But it is incredibly unusual for Congress members to actually encourage the Supreme Court to overturn existing precedent.

MCCAMMON: There's been a lot of speculation about whether this court will narrowly focus on the question in this law or go ahead and overturn Roe. How likely do you think it is that they would go that far in this case?

SOOHOO: I think everyone's looking at Chief Justice Roberts because I think that he really tries to portray himself as a centrist, and I think that he's concerned about the court's legitimacy. Whole Woman's Health vs. Hellerstedt was just decided in 2016. And the idea of overturning that case, as well as Roe vs. Wade, which has really been the law of the land for a significant amount of time, is a major issue.

I think Kavanaugh really is trying to also position himself as a centrist. But what we've seen is the increasing politicization of the Supreme Court and campaign promises to appoint Supreme Court justices who are either in favor or against overturning Roe v. Wade. And I think that that's going to create some political pressure on Kavanaugh and the other justices.

MCCAMMON: Cynthia Soohoo is a professor of law and co-director of the Human Rights and Gender Justice Clinic at the City University of New York School of Law. Professor Soohoo, thanks so much.

SOOHOO: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.