Federal Judge Blocks Mississippi Abortion Ban (Again)

By Christopher Coble, Esq. on May 29, 2019

"Here we go again," began US District Judge Carlton Reeves, referring to Mississippi latest abortion restriction, this one barring procedures after a fetal heartbeat is detected. If you'll recall, Judge Reeves had already blocked a less prohibitive statute last year, rhetorically asking, "So, why are we here?"

And the outcome here is the same. Judge Reeves granted the plaintiffs, Jackson Women's Health Organization, a preliminary injunction, blocking the Mississippi law from going into effect. And he had some more choice words for the state.

Are These Bills Viable?

A fetal heartbeat can be detected as early as six weeks after a woman's last menstrual period, or "lmp." That is often earlier than a woman even knows she is pregnant. Mississippi's previous statute prohibited abortions after 15 weeks lmp, which is still around 10 weeks before a fetus is "viable," or able to live outside the mother's womb.

This Court previously found the 15-week ban to be an unconstitutional violation of substantive due process because the Supreme Court has repeatedly held that women have the right to choose an abortion prior to viability, and a fetus is not viable at 15 weeks lmp," Judge Reeves noted. "If a fetus is not viable at 15 weeks lmp, it is not viable at 6 weeks lmp. The State conceded this point. The State also conceded at oral argument that this Court must follow Supreme Court precedent. Under Supreme Court precedent, plaintiffs are substantially likely to succeed on the merits of this claim."

"Smacks of Defiance"

But that's just the technical part of the ruling. "It sure smacks of defiance to this court," Reeves asserted during oral arguments prior to his written ruling. "Doesn't it boil down to: Six is less than 15?"

Of course, Mississippi -- along with Georgia, Alabama, Ohio, and Missouri -- may not be looking for a favorable ruling from a lower federal court. The design, implicitly or explicitly, of many of the latest abortion bans are to get those laws in front of the Supreme Court, where states believe a new conservative majority may overturn Roe v. Wade altogether.

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