A group of scientists is urging the Supreme Court to uphold a crucial abortion restriction, arguing that previous legal decisions contradict modern understandings of fetal development.
The 15-week abortion ban in Mississippi is not only constitutional but also better aligns state policy with scientific realities, according to a brief filed by Dr. Maureen Condic, a faculty member in the University of Utah School of Medicine specializing in human embryology, in collaboration with the pro-life Charlotte Lozier Institute. Legal precedent since Roe v. Wade does not allow states to restrict abortion prior to fetal viability, which is loosely defined as 24 weeks. This precedent, the brief states, must be updated to reflect modern understandings of fetal development that were not known at the time of earlier abortion cases.
"Because scientific understanding of human fetal life has expanded exponentially in the decades since those decisions, this Court should revisit its prior precedents to incorporate the compelling state interests implicated by current scientific knowledge about pre-viability fetal life," says the brief, which was filed to the Supreme Court on Thursday.
Studies have consistently found that the unborn begin to feel pain around 12 to 18 weeks, and 4-D imaging has found advanced neurologic and behavioral developments as early as 12 weeks. This updated scientific understanding, the scientists noted, leaves a legal uncertainly that should allow for the states to make decisions for themselves on when to limit abortion access.
"Such objective evidence of active fetal consciousness dispels any indeterminacy about whether the human fetus is either alive or capable of independent subjective experience," the brief says. "It also requires reevaluation of the State's compelling interest in protecting that conscious human life."
Chuck Donovan, president of the Charlotte Lozier Institute, said the legal argument against Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, another case that upheld abortion rights, is simple: Follow the science.
"Those precedents are not merely out of date, but severely out of touch and cruel given the undeniable evidence that a living, sentient human being exists in the womb," Donovan said in a statement. "Late-term abortion limits are grounded in science and compassion for mother and baby."
A June poll from the Associated Press found that only 34 percent of respondents support abortion access past the first trimester, even though second trimester bans have consistently been ruled unconstitutional. More than half of European countries ban abortions after the first trimester, according to a study from the Charlotte Lozier Institute.
Lawyers representing Mississippi filed a brief in July asking the Supreme Court not only to uphold the state's 15-week ban but also to overturn Roe v. Wade completely. The legal argument similarly focused on the need for the Court to consider scientific advancements on fetal development.
The Mississippi abortion case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, will be heard in the fall.