Federal Judge Blocks Mississippi’s 15-week Abortion Ban
JACKSON, MISSISSIPPI – November 21, 2018
On Tuesday, a federal judge blocked Mississippi from enacting a ban on abortions past 15-weeks and criticized state lawmakers for trying to pass legislation that would trigger an overturn of Roe v. Wade.
Republican Governor Phil Bryant enacted the ban in March. The law would have prohibited abortions 15 weeks after the mother’s last menstrual period. The law was temporarily blocked in a lawsuit filed by the Center for Reproductive Rights on behalf of the only abortion clinic in Mississippi, the Jackson Women’s Health Organization. The bill banned most abortions after 15 weeks, with no exceptions for rape or incest, which made it the most restrictive abortion ban in the US. Doctors could have faced fines or had their licenses suspended or revoked if they performed the procedure after 15 weeks, Buzzfeed News noted.
The only exemptions were in cases where there was a fetal abnormality that was “incompatible with life,” or the mother’s life was in danger.
Gov. Bryant said at the time he wanted the state to be “the safest place in America for an unborn child.”
Abortion-rights activists called the law unconstitutional because it limits abortions before fetuses can survive outside the womb.
Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, called the ruling a “wake-up call for state lawmakers who are continuously trying to chip away at abortion access. Such bans will not stand in a court of law.”
On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves, an appointee of President Obama, ruled that the Mississippi Gestation Age Act “unequivocally” violates a woman's constitutional rights, Buzzfeed News reported. Under current state law, women are allowed abortions until 20 weeks.
In his decision, Judge Reeves criticized the state for seeking a legal battle with abortion rights advocates in an effort to revisit Roe v Wade, the landmark 1973 US Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion nationwide, in federal court.
“The state chose to pass a law it knew was unconstitutional to endorse a decades-long campaign, fuelled by national interest groups, to ask the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v Wade,” he wrote.
“This court follows the commands of the Supreme Court and the dictates of the United States Constitution, rather than the disingenuous calculations of the Mississippi Legislature.”
The judge also pointed to medical consensus about when the fetus becomes viable, which typically begins at 23 or 24 weeks of pregnancy.
The ruling means a similar 15-week ban will not be allowed to pass in neighboring Louisiana, as that law was dependent on the outcome of Mississippi’s ruling, the Clarion Ledger newspaper reported.
The judge also wrote that there was a “sad irony” in male lawmakers dictating legislation about women’s reproductive health.
“As a man, who cannot get pregnant or seek an abortion, I can only imagine the anxiety and turmoil a woman might experience when she decides whether to terminate her pregnancy through an abortion. Respecting her autonomy demands that this statute be enjoined,” Reeves wrote.