Hundreds of people protesting for and against abortion rights stage dueling rallies in front of court as justices indicate overturning 1973 ruling that legalised nationwide abortion.

Abortion rights advocates and anti-abortion protesters demonstrate as the US court hears arguments in a case from Mississippi state.
Abortion rights advocates and anti-abortion protesters demonstrate as the US court hears arguments in a case from Mississippi state. (AP)

The conservative-dominated Supreme Court has signalled it will roll back abortion rights in the United States by upholding a law in the state of Mississippi that would ban the procedure after 15 weeks.

Mississippi Solicitor General Scott Stewart urged the court on Wednesday to uphold the state's 15-week ban and strike down the landmark previous cases that enshrined a women's constitutional right to an abortion.

While acknowledging abortion is a "hard issue," Stewart argued that individual states should have the right to set their own rules.

"When an issue affects everyone and when the Constitution does not take sides on it, it belongs to the people," he said. 

"This court should overrule Roe and Casey and uphold the state's law."

In its 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court held that access to abortion is a constitutional right.

In a 1992 ruling, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the court guaranteed a woman's right to a termination until the fetus is viable outside the womb, which is typically 22 to 24 weeks.

At least four of the six conservative justices on the court –– including two nominated by Donald Trump –– seemed receptive to overturning Roe and Casey.

The other two conservatives, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Neil Gorsuch, also a Trump nominee, appeared to favour a more cautious approach –– upholding the 15-week ban in Mississippi while not going so far as to strike down Roe and Casey.

READ MORE: Battle for abortion rights hits US streets

Protests outside court

Speaking after the court session, President Joe Biden said he supports maintaining Roe. 

"I think it's a rational position to take. And I continue to support it," he told reporters.

The other justice nominated by Trump, Amy Coney Barrett, asked repeatedly why adoption cannot be considered a viable alternative to abortion.

The 2018 law passed by the legislature in Mississippi, a conservative Bible Belt state, was blocked as unconstitutional by lower courts before ending up in the Supreme Court.

As the court heard arguments from the two sides on Wednesday, hundreds of demonstrators gathered outside carrying signs and banners and chanting slogans.

"Abortion Is Murder," read placards carried by anti-abortion protesters. "Abortion Is Health Care," said sign displayed by supporters of abortion rights.

The Supreme Court is expected to render a decision by June.

READ MORE: US appeals court allows Texas to resume ban on most abortions

Source: TRTWorld and agencies