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The Supreme Court has once again placed itself at the center of the U.S. culture wars by agreeing this week to hear a major abortion case… just weeks after saying it would take up a high-profile gun-rights challenge.
The court, with its 6-3 conservative majority, on Monday agreed to hear Mississippi's bid to revive a Republican-backed state law that bans abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy, a case that could undercut the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion nationwide.
And while anti-abortion activists cheered the move, it also caught some by surprise – like Eric Scheidler, Executive Director of the Pro-Life Action League.
"I wasn't expecting the court to take any very significant abortion cases for a while, you know, kind of let the dust settle after the Amy Coney Barrett and Brett Kavanaugh, you know, hearings and all that went on there."
But Scheidler thinks it was Barrett herself – former President Donald Trump’s third and final high court appointee, viewed as a religious conservative – who tipped scales, especially with Chief Justice John Roberts, a conservative, siding with the liberals on the court’s last major abortion case.
"I think her presence on the court may well be why the court is taking up a case like this. It seems as if Justice Roberts has been reluctant to, you know, really push forward on abortion….”
Despite the court’s new conservative super-majority, some abortion-rights activists are trying to remain hopeful.
One of them is Laurie Bertram Roberts, Executive Director of the Mississippi Reproductive Freedom Fund.
"I'm not going to sit here and go, 'Oh, my goodness, like everything's ruined now, like, let's all throw in the towel,' because we don't know that yet. There's a couple of justices in particular that - you know, Roberts is such a wild card. Even Gorsuch has been kind of wibbly wobbly and even Kavanagh's been kind of weird. So, like, who knows what's on their minds?”
And then there is the nation’s other hot topic, gun rights, with the court late last month agreeing to take up a challenge - backed by the NRA - to New York state’s restrictive laws on carrying concealed handguns.
To add to the drama, rulings in these highly-charged cases are expected to come next year in the run-up to mid-term elections that will determine if Democrats maintain control over both chambers of Congress.
Some experts say wins for conservatives in both cases may actually help Democrats in the elections by angering and motivating liberal voters.
Other possible cases facing the court include challenges to voter restrictions put in place by Republican-led states and affirmative action policies of universities - meaning that the court’s next term, which runs from October to June of 2022, could be a blockbuster.