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Ginsburg's Death Sets Up A Pitched Battle Over Abortion Rights

NOEL KING, HOST:

All right - now moving on to abortion rights. The Supreme Court now has three liberal justices and five conservative. President Trump would like to make that six. Anti-abortion advocates have been eager to bring a case to the court that would overturn the Roe v. Wade decision which legalized abortion nationwide in 1973. NPR's Sarah McCammon has been covering this issue in depth. Good morning, Sarah.

SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: Hi, Noel.

KING: What are abortion rights opponents saying right now?

MCCAMMON: Well, they say this is the moment they've been working toward for decades, since the Roe v. Wade decision legalized abortion nationwide in 1973. Here's Kristan Hawkins with Students for Life of America.

KRISTAN HAWKINS: We've known for some time that when the next Supreme Court vacancy would be announced, that this would be the moment that we have been waiting for, for that opportunity to take America into a post-Roe nation.

MCCAMMON: And, of course, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had been a reliable vote for abortion rights. And replacing her with a conservative justice, as Trump has promised to do, really changes the game.

KING: Yes, it does. So how are abortion rights advocates getting ready?

MCCAMMON: They recognize this will be a contentious nomination fight. We certainly saw that with the confirmation process for Justice Brett Kavanaugh, and there is even more at stake now. Supporters of abortion rights are trying to make the case that Republicans should exhibit some consistency and refuse to confirm a justice this close to an election. As you know, of course, Noel, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refused to hold hearings four years ago for President Obama's nominee, Judge Merrick Garland, after Justice Antonin Scalia died eight months before the election. This election is just about six weeks away, but McConnell is, of course, pushing forward.

So abortion rights advocates, like NARAL's Ilyse Hogue, are asking Republicans to honor the standard they articulated four years ago.

ILYSE HOGUE: We had so many Republicans in 2016 swear that they would not do this. I think the character and soul of the Republican Party is on the table right now, and I think they're going to hear a lot from voters who want them to come down on the side of letting the people decide.

MCCAMMON: And NARAL and other groups say they're reaching out to voters in key states, trying to put pressure on vulnerable Republican senators to hold off on this confirmation process.

KING: So we don't obviously know what's going to happen with the vacant seat, but how likely, Sarah, is it that the Supreme Court could be faced with a decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, like, anytime soon?

MCCAMMON: Well, there are many ways that this issue could come before the court again. Reproductive rights groups tell me they're watching more than 15 cases related to abortion which are at the appellate court level right now and could come before the Supreme Court in the coming months or years. Just one example of those - a Mississippi state law banning abortions after 15 weeks. So far, that one has been blocked by lower courts, but the state of Mississippi has asked the Supreme Court to consider it. There are many other cases at stake. And, of course, the outcome of the Affordable Care Act, as we were just hearing, that has implications for reproductive health and reproductive rights.

Longer-term anti-abortion rights groups tell me their goal is to erode Roe to such an extent that states can expect very restrictive abortion laws to be upheld, laws that would not have passed muster before. Think of some of those early first-trimester abortion bans that were passed in the past couple of years. Those groups also would like to see federal legislation prohibiting abortion. And remember, Chief Justice Roberts has been considered the swing vote on this issue recently, but if President Trump succeeds in getting another nominee on the court, abortion rights opponents might not even need Roberts to vote their way in order to dramatically restrict abortion rights.

KING: Oh, that's interesting. NPR's Sarah McCammon covers abortion rights. Sarah, thanks so much.

MCCAMMON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.