JACKSON, Miss. (AP) – Dr. Thomas Dobbs has never involved himself in political struggles over reproductive health, but his name has become shorthand for a court case that could end abortion rights in the United States. If he has feelings about the situation, he pretty much keeps them to himself.
Mississippi’s top public health official named in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a dispute over a state law that would ban most abortions after the 15th week, but could be used to overturn Roe v. Wade.
A leaked draft of a US Supreme Court opinion shows that a conservative majority of justices are willing to use the case to overturn the landmark 1973 court ruling that established abortion rights nationwide.
Dobbs, 52, is the physician in charge of the state Department of Health, which regulates Mississippi’s only abortion clinic. As the state’s chief health officer, he is the person who must be named in any lawsuit related to abortion or other health issues, he explained in a recent Twitter post.
So while the name at the center of the abortion debate could possibly change from “Roe” to “Dobbs,” it’s not the health worker but the state attorney general’s office that is handling the case. of State.
“I had no direct involvement in any element of this legal action,” he wrote in the post.
Liz Sharlot, director of communications for the state health department, confirmed Dobbs’ strictly nominal role and declined a request from the Associated Press to interview him because, she said, he “n did not personally initiate this affair”.
“The only role of the Mississippi State Health Department regarding abortion facilities is regulation to support the law, inspection and licensing of that facility,” Sharlot wrote in an email.
Dobbs is a former state epidemiologist who became health department chief in 2018, months after Mississippi’s Republican-controlled legislature passed the abortion restriction law that is now at the center of the debate. ‘judicial affair.
He has spent his public health career focusing not on abortion, but on finding better outcomes in a state plagued by high infant mortality rates and other poor health statistics.
The legal fight against abortion began when Mississippi’s only abortion clinic sued the 15-week ban. The lawsuit was originally called Jackson Women’s Health Organization v. Currier et al. The main defendant was then-public health officer Dr. Mary Currier. After he left, a judge removed Currier’s name from the case and replaced it with Dobbs.
A federal district judge blocked the law from going into effect. When the state appealed to the Supreme Court, the name of the case was reversed, Dobbs v. Clinic.
During online briefing hosted by the Mississippi State Medical Association in June 2021, Dobbs was asked about his name on the abortion case. He was quick to note that Dr. Kenneth Cleveland was also named in the lawsuit in his capacity as head of the Mississippi State Board of Medical Licensure.
“He didn’t make the headlines,” said then-medical association president Dr. Mark Horne in a good-natured jab at Dobbs.
“I’m trying to get him to trade with me,” Dobbs joked.
Until now, the name most associated with the abortion debate was Jane Roe, the pseudonym of a Dallas woman named Norma McCorvey, who was the plaintiff in the famous Roe v. Wade case. Wade was Henry Wade, the Dallas County District Attorney at the time.
In 1969, 22-year-old McCorvey became pregnant for the third time and wanted an abortion. McCorvey and her lawyers eventually won the legal battle, but not before she gave birth and gave the girl up for adoption. She later became an anti-abortion activist. McCorvey was 69 when she died in 2017.
Another name that comes up often in the debate is that of Robert P. Casey, a former Democratic governor of Pennsylvania who was an anti-abortion advocate. In 1989, he worked with the state legislature to enact a law that imposed several limitations on abortion. Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania challenged the law. In 1992, the Supreme Court upheld most of the restrictions, but also affirmed a woman’s right to abortion. Casey died in 2000. The name of the case was Planned Parenthood v. Casey.
Although Dobbs hasn’t been involved in abortion debates, he’s spent the past two years embroiled in another controversial health issue: the COVID-19 pandemic. At dozens of press conferences and other public appearances, he implored people to get vaccinated, wear masks and maintain social distancing. He persisted even as many people, including some officials, resisted.
In August, Dobbs said he received threats from people who believed false conspiracy theories about him and his family while promoting the COVID-19 vaccination. Dobbs said one lie is that her son, who is also a doctor, receives a World Bank-funded bribe when Dobbs urges people to get vaccinated.
“I don’t get any vaccine promotion dollars,” Dobbs wrote on Twitter.
Before COVID-19 vaccines became available, the usually even-tempered Dobbs expressed frustration with people’s insistence on attending social events and after-school school activities, including sports competitions.
“Our prioritization hierarchy is extremely stupid,” Dobbs said in November 2020. “‘We prioritize youth sports, not just academics. We actually prioritize community health, just to be honest. »
While in the midst of battling the stressful pandemic, Dobbs said he turned to exercise and listening to music — jazz and the Rolling Stones — as ways to disconnect from the work. He announced in March that he will retire at the end of July.
Dr. Georges Benjamin is executive director of the American Public Health Association, one of several public health and research groups that have filed a legal case criticizing Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban.
Benjamin said he was unaware of Dobbs’ personal opinion on abortion and the legal issues surrounding the case, and expressed doubts that Dobbs would state them publicly.
“Your name may be associated with a court case when you do these jobs,” Benjamin said. “But your associated name may not match your own views. You are the public official, and that is unfortunately what happens when you accept these jobs.
Benjamin said Dobbs has done “incredible” work as a Mississippi health worker during the pandemic, including stellar work on inequality issues. He called him a “trustworthy figure who follows scientific principles”.
Benjamin’s hope, he said, is that Dobbs’ reputation “won’t be tarnished” by having his name on the abortion case.
AP Medical Writer Mike Stobbe reported from New York.