Mississippi’s 15 Week Abortion Ban Ruled Unconstitutional
Last week, a federal judge ruled that the law Mississippi passed to ban abortions after 15 weeks was unconstitutional.[i] In the opinion, the judge writes that “The established medical consensus...is that viability typically begins between 23 to 24 weeks lmp."[ii]
The court found that because this law bans abortions before viability, it violates the holdings in both Roe and Casey, which clearly state that:
“Before viability, the State’s interests are not strong enough to support a prohibition of abortion or the imposition of a substantial obstacle to the woman’s effective right to elect the procedure.”[iii]
Mississippi tried to argue that this law was passed in the interest of protecting the health of women, but the judge slams this argument in a footnote[iv] calling the Mississippi Legislature’s professed interest in “women’s health” pure gaslighting. He goes on to say the state’s
…leaders are proud to challenge Roe but choose not to lift a finger to address the tragedies lurking on the other side of the delivery room: our alarming infant and maternal mortality rates.
Citing numerous examples of Mississippi laws and practices that reject women’s rights and autonomy, the judge writes
…legislation like H.B. 1510 is closer to the old Mississippi—the Mississippi bent on controlling women and minorities.
The ruling points to another recent ruling in the Eighth Circuit overturning an Arkansas law to ban on abortions after 12 weeks, where the court states “a State may not prohibit any woman from making the ultimate decision to terminate her pregnancy before viability.”[v]
The judge admonishes Mississippi for passing a law like this which has already been unsuccessfully litigated in other states knowing “that this type of litigation costs the tax-payers a tremendous amount of money.”[vi] He states that Mississippi passed this law, knowing it was unconstitutional, to push an effort to overturn Roe.
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 footnote here states “The Mississippi Legislature has a history of disregarding the constitutional rights of its citizens,” citing numerous cases of racial discrimination and civil rights violations from school segregation to gay marriage bans.
Adhering to Supreme Court precedent, the judge dismisses all the state’s arguments, and writes:
The fact that men, myself included, are determining how women may choose to manage their reproductive health is a sad irony not lost on the Court.
The judge orders the law to be blocked because it "violates Supreme Court precedent, and in doing so it disregards the Fourteenth Amendment guarantee of autonomy for women desiring to control their own reproductive health."[vii]
Most likely, Mississippi will appeal this case to the Fifth Circuit hoping to get a better outcome. They may. And this matters for Louisiana, because of a similar, but more restrictive, law that was passed earlier this year. That law will only go into effect if Mississippi’s law is upheld by the Fifth Circuit.
We can only hope that the strong case this ruling makes of the laws constitutional failures is persuasive to the judges on that court.
[i] MS House Bill 1510 was enacted in March 2018.
[ii] Last menstrual period” is often abbreviated as “lmp
[iii] Casey, 505 U.S. at 846.
[iv] Jackson Women's Health v Currier, Footnote #22, p. 8.
[v] Edwards v. Beck, 8 F. Supp. 3d 1091, 1095 (E.D. Ark. 2014) (permanently enjoining ban on abortions after 12 weeks, without limiting remedy to time period between viability and when clinic stopped offering abortion services).