Justice Amy Coney Barrett questions whether adoption laws could eliminate the 'burden' of parenthood for abortion seekers

Protestors at Supreme Court
Abortion-rights and anti-abortion-rights protesters demonstrate in front of the Supreme Court on Wednesday.Andrew Harnik/AP
  • A case about a 2018 Mississippi law banning abortions after 15 weeks has reached the Supreme Court.

  • The justices heard oral arguments on Wednesday.

  • Justice Amy Coney Barrett argued that pregnancy and parenthood are not "part of the same burden."

Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett on Wednesday raised questions about the impact of so-called safe-haven laws while hearing oral arguments in an abortion case whose decision could overturn Roe v. Wade.

The case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, which focuses on a law enacted in Mississippi in 2018, threatens abortion rights established in the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling.

The Mississippi law bans abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy, while the Roe ruling bars states from banning abortions before 24 weeks, near the viability stage of a pregnancy, when a fetus can sustain itself outside the uterus.

Those in favor of upholding the law say parenthood is no longer an undue burden. When questioning the attorney for Jackson Women's Health — the only abortion clinic in Mississippi — Barrett asked whether adoption laws removed the burden of parenthood.

"So petitioner points out that in all 50 states you can terminate parental rights by relinquishing a child after [birth], and I think the shortest period might have been 48 hours, if I'm remembering the data correctly. So it seems to me, seen in that light, both Roe and Casey emphasize the burdens of parenting. And insofar as you and many of your amici focus on the ways in which forced parenting, forced motherhood, would hinder women's access to the workplace and to equal opportunities, it's also focused on the consequences of parenting and the obligations of motherhood that flow from pregnancy. Why don't the safe-haven laws take care of that problem?" said Barrett, who has seven kids, two of whom are adopted.

Safe-haven laws, versions of which exist in every state, prevent parents or guardians from getting into legal trouble for voluntarily giving up a newborn baby, USA Today reported in 2019.

"It doesn't seem to follow that pregnancy and then parenthood are all part of the same burden," Barrett continued. "And so it seems to me that the choice, more focused, would be between, say, the ability to get an abortion at 23 weeks, or the state requiring the woman to go 15, 16 weeks more and then terminate parental rights at the conclusion."

Julie Rikelman, an attorney for Jackson Women's Health, replied that forced pregnancy "imposes unique physical demands and risk on women and in fact has impact on all of their lives, on their ability to care for other children, other family members, on their ability to work."

Correction 12/6/2021: This story was corrected to reflect the full quote from Justice Coney Barrett.

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