US Supreme Court rejects appeal on fetal personhood

Oct 11 (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday declined to rule on whether fetuses are entitled to constitutional rights in light of its ruling in June overturning the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that had legalized abortion nationwide , and for now it was clear for another front in America’s culture wars.

The justices rejected an appeal by a Catholic group and two women of a lower court’s ruling against their challenge to a 2019 Rhode Island law that codified the right to abortion in line with the Roe precedent. The two women, who were pregnant at the time the suit was filed, sued on behalf of their fetuses and later gave birth. The Rhode Island Supreme Court ruled that the fetuses lacked the proper legal standing to bring the suit.

Rhode Island Gov. Daniel McKee, a Democrat, welcomed Tuesday’s action by the justices.

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“We are pleased that the Supreme Court declined to hear this frivolous appeal. Governor McKee believes we should expand access to reproductive health care for women,” spokesman Matt Sheaff said in a statement, adding that the governor “is committed to using his veto pen to block any legislation that would take our state backwards.”

Attorneys representing the plaintiffs did not respond to requests for comment.

Conservative Justice Samuel Alito wrote in the June ruling that overturned abortion rights precedent that the court did not address in the decision “if and when prenatal life is entitled to any of the rights enjoyed after birth.”

Some state Republicans have pursued so-called fetal personhood laws, like one passed in Georgia, affecting fetuses starting around six weeks into pregnancy, that would give preborn fetuses a range of legal rights and protections like any person.

Under such laws, terminating a pregnancy can legally be considered murder.

Attorneys for the group Catholics for Life and the two Rhode Island women — one named Nichole Leigh Rowley and the other using the pseudonym Jane Doe — argued that the case “provides this court with the opportunity to face the inevitable question head-on” by decide whether fetuses possess due process and equal protection rights under the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution.

The Rhode Island Supreme Court invoked the now-reversed Roe precedent in holding that the 14th Amendment did not extend rights to fetuses. The Roe ruling had recognized that the right to privacy under the US Constitution protected a woman’s ability to terminate her pregnancy.

Old Rhode Island laws included a criminal statute that predated the Roe decision that had banned abortions. After the Roe ruling, a federal court declared the Rhode Island law unconstitutional, and it was not in effect when the Democratic-led legislature passed the 2019 Reproductive Privacy Act.

Gina Raimondo, a Democrat who was the state’s governor at the time and is now President Joe Biden’s U.S. commerce secretary, signed the 2019 law, which codified the then-status quo under Roe on abortion rights.

More than a dozen states have enforced near-total abortion bans since the Supreme Court’s June abortion ruling in a case called Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.

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Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; Editing by Will Dunham

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Nate Raymond

Thomson Reuters

Nate Raymond reports on the federal judiciary and litigation. He can be reached at nate.raymond@thomsonreuters.com.

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