Health of the Nation: the seventh instalment | Samantha Somerville

Abortion and the Supreme Court is a mainstay topic of conversation at many dinner parties and cocktail parties in this country. But in the most momentous case of the decade, last week’s argument in Whole Woman’s Health v Hellerstedt, the supreme court justices appeared not to know much about the long history of abortion, the politics behind this decision, or the state-by-state decision to ban abortion. Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s not guilty plea that the court review the case and take it up before the next election was spurned.

The court has a history of not taking cases until after a presidential election. It may not be that way for this election.

I had several conversations with Stacie Williams, legal director of Guttmacher Institute. And I hope we’ll know more in the days ahead. I should say here that the lower courts and legislatures have been particularly adept at getting their way for years. Not a single state abortion ban was struck down by the courts in 2013 or 2014. And we know that political calculations influenced those decisions. It will be worth seeing if those factors continue to determine abortion law in the future.

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