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Supreme Court is not eager to overturn Roe vs. Wade — at least not soon

David G. Savage, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court justices will meet behind closed doors Thursday morning and are expected to debate and discuss -- for the 14th time -- Indiana's appeal of court rulings that have blocked a law to prohibit certain abortions.

The high court's action -- or so far, nonaction -- in Indiana's case gives one clue as to how the court's conservative majority will decide the fate of abortion bans recently passed by lawmakers in Alabama and Georgia. Republican Gov. Kay Ivey of Alabama signed her state's ban into law on Wednesday.

Lawmakers in those states have said they approved the bans in an effort to force the high court to reconsider Roe vs. Wade, the 1973 decision that legalized abortion nationwide.

The justices have many ways to avoid such a sweeping ruling, however. And Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., in his 14 years on the high court, has typically resisted moving quickly to decide major controversies or to announce abrupt, far-reaching changes in the law.

Roberts' history, along with the court's handling of abortion cases in recent years, suggests he will not move to overturn the right to abortion soon, or all at once, and is particularly unlikely to do so in the next year or two with a presidential election pending.

Notre Dame Law professor Richard Garnett, a critic of the Roe decision and a former court clerk, said the Alabama lawmakers may be moving too fast.


"It is not clear that the current justices who have expressed doubts about the correctness of decisions like Roe ... will want to take up a case that squarely presents the question of whether these decisions should be overruled," he said. "Instead, they might prefer to first consider less sweeping abortion regulations."

Roberts is a staunch conservative who has moved the law to the right on a range of issues. He prefers, however, to do so in a step-by-step approach.

Under his leadership, for example, the court's conservative majority struck down laws that limited campaign spending, including by corporations. But they did so only after several small-scale rulings had chipped away at these laws.

The boldness of the Citizens United decision surprised many, but not those who were closely following the court's decisions in this area.


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