Chief Justice John Roberts voted to uphold restrictions in two major abortion cases, in the majority in 2007 to uphold a ban on a method of abortion opponents call "partial-birth abortion" and in dissent in 2016 when the court struck down Texas restrictions on abortion clinics in a case called Whole Woman's Health. But when a virtually identical law from Louisiana came before the court in 2020, Roberts voted against it and wrote the opinion controlling the outcome of the case and striking down the Louisiana law. The chief justice said he continues to believe that the 2016 case "was wrongly decided" but that the question was "whether to adhere to it in deciding the present case."
Roberts' views on when to break with court precedent could determine how far he is willing to go in the Mississippi case. At his 2005 confirmation hearing, he said overturning precedent "is a jolt to the legal system," which depends in part on stability and evenhandedness. Thinking that an earlier case was wrongly decided is not enough, he said. Overturning a case requires looking "at these other factors, like settled expectations, like the legitimacy of the Court, like whether a particular precedent is workable or not, whether a precedent has been eroded by subsequent developments," Roberts said then.
In the same hearing, Roberts was asked to explain his presence on a legal brief filed by the George H.W. Bush administration that said Roe's conclusion that there is a right to abortion has "no support in the text, structure, or history of the Constitution.'' Roberts responded that the brief reflected the administration's views.