Mark Jones is a professor at Rice University in Houston (Texas) in the Department of Political Science
Teaching about the constitutional right of abortion can feel difficult after the Texas near-total abortion ban. Students may have personal experiences with abortion and may bring up strong emotions in the classroom. This case is important to discuss as the Supreme Court’s decision could set the precedent for many other abortion-related cases.
Below is some context framing and importance for the ruling, along with questions to guide your class discussion.
Context and Precedents
A Texas law banning most abortions within six weeks was put into effect on September 1, 2021. Most people expected an injunction to stop the law’s implementation, following the precedent set by two landmark 1973 cases (Roe V. Wade and 1992 (Planned Parenthood.v. Casey).
In a 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to issue an injunction. This demonstrates the extent to which the court’s power balance was altered by the nomination of three prolife Supreme Court justices by former president Donald Trump.
The five-justice majority stated that it did not want to comment on the overall constitutionality of the legislation. Instead, the majority preferred to wait for a case in which an abortion provider or enabler was sued to determine if the law’s constitutionality. This was done alongside a mechanism that allows individuals, not the state to enforce the ban through civil lawsuits against anyone aiding or performing an abortion.
The Supreme Court will likely find Texas’ law unconstitutional. This decision could be a foreshadowing of the Supreme Court using one of the abortion cases on the docket to change the constitutional right to abortion established by Roe V. Wade. This could mean that legal abortions can be stopped (without putting the health of the parents who gave birth) for a shorter period.
Discussion Questions about the Constitutional Right to Abortion
These questions can be used to guide the discussion about the abortion ban in class:
1. Over the past 50 years, American political leaders have looked to Congress as the arbiter for abortion’s legality. Why is this possible?
2. Roe v. Wade ruled that abortion is legal after 24 weeks. This has been the law for 50 years. Do you think that the U.S. Supreme Court should alter the maximum time for legal abortions? Why or why not?
3. How can a president’s power of naming U.S. Supreme Court justices to life terms have policy implications beyond their term?
Find out more about teaching Texas politics or American government in class using the most recent Cengage titles.