A Supreme Court Abortion Fight Could Come in Time for 2016 Elections

PHOTO: Pro-choice protester Julia Ann Nitsch of Austin, center, chants as pro-life supporters and pro-choice protesters rally at the Texas state capitol in favor and against the new controversial abortion legislation up for a vote in the state legislature
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The cornerstone of the modern abortion rights movement is under siege.

Twelve states have passed laws banning abortions at 20 or fewer weeks after conception, all directly flaunting the legal precedent set by the landmark 1973 Roe vs. Wade Supreme Court ruling. The most stringent law is in North Dakota, which has banned the practice after six weeks.

Six of those laws have been partially or fully blocked by the courts (including North Dakota's), and more challenges are likely to come.

As they do, all signs point to a march that will take the issue to the steps of the Supreme Court.

What is less clear is who will win.

"If four of the members want to take the case, they'll take it," Peter Hoffa, an American history professor at the University of Georgia, told ABC News. "There are four members of the court now who feel that Roe v. Wade was wrongly decided."

Add a fifth, believed by some observers to be Justice Anthony Kennedy, and the case could overturn 40 years of legal precedent on abortion.

As more laws are passed and are challenged in federal courts, the more likely a Supreme Court challenge to Roe v. Wade becomes.

Perhaps sensing blood in the water, anti-abortion advocates openly welcome the possibility.

"We would welcome a challenge at the Supreme Court level because we think we would have enough votes to uphold the law," Mary Spaulding Balch, director of state legislation for the National Right to Life Committee, told ABC News.

The National Right to Life Committee drafted the model bill that inspired the first statewide, 20-week abortion ban, in Nebraska.

It prohibits abortions after a fetus is "pain capable," which is believed to be around 20 weeks, according to disputed studies. Roe v. Wade established a "viability" standard that allowed abortions until 24 weeks of pregnancy, after which the fetus is generally believed to be capable of surviving outside of the womb.

Spaulding Balch said she senses weakness in her opponents, especially when it comes to being willing to escalate a challenge to "pain capable" laws in federal courts, a precursor to a potential hearing at the Supreme Court.

"I've been in this movement for over 40 years and it used to be the norm that whenever a state passed a piece of legislation, our opponents would run immediately and get an injunction," Spaulding Balch said. "The pain capable laws are the exception."

"My guess is that they're as pragmatic as I am, and you have to be able to count to five," she said, noting the number of Supreme Court justices needed to reach a majority.

Karen O'Connor, an American University political science professor and a supporter of abortion rights, put it bluntly: "I think we are going to see Roe overturned."

"There are so many cases that are going to be pending in the circuit court, and one of the indicators as to whether or not the Supreme Court takes the case is conflict in the circuit," O'Connor told ABC News. "We'll see this happening all this year, so I would say the year after next is going to be a blockbuster year for the court -- I'm thinking 2015."

Spaulding agreed that 2015 is a realistic possibility for the court to address abortion wholesale.

If the issue is not already near the forefront of the political consciousness, it will be roughly one year away from the 2016 presidential election.

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