Appeals Court Blocks Mississippi’s Six-Week Abortion Ban

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Today’s decision marks the first time a federal appeals court has weighed in on one of the most recent series of six-week abortion bans
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(PRESS RELEASE)—Today, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals temporarily blocked Mississippi’s six-week abortion ban, upholding a lower court’s decision from May 2019. The case was brought by the Center for Reproductive Rights, civil rights attorney Robert B. McDuff, of Jackson, Miss., Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, and the Mississippi Center for Justice on behalf of Jackson Women’s Health Organization (JWHO)--the last remaining abortion clinic in Mississippi. On December 13th of last year, the Fifth Circuit struck down a 15-week abortion ban passed by Mississippi. 

In today’s decision, a three-judge panel of the Fifth Circuit wrote, “[A]ll agree that cardiac activity can be detected well before the fetus is viable. That dooms the law. If a ban on abortion after 15 weeks is unconstitutional, then it follows that a ban on abortion at an earlier stage of pregnancy is also unconstitutional.”

“This is now the second time in two months the Fifth Circuit has told Mississippi that it cannot ban abortion,” said Hillary Schneller, senior staff attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights. “Despite the relentless attempts of Mississippi and other states, the right to legal abortion remains the law of the land.” 

The six-week abortion ban was signed into law in March 2019 and blocked in May by District Judge Carlton W. Reeves. In his decision, he wrote, “Here we go again. Mississippi has passed another law banning abortions prior to viability.” He went on to say that, “[This law] prevents a woman’s free choice, which is central to personal dignity and autonomy.”  

“A ban at six weeks of pregnancy means many of our patients would lose their right to have an abortion before they even know they’re pregnant,” said Shannon Brewer, director of Jackson Women’s Health Organization. “Most of our patients are past that point. Some have spent weeks saving money for the procedure and have driven hundreds of miles to reach us. Keeping this law blocked means abortion remains legal in Mississippi and gives those women a chance to access it.” 

The ban violates Supreme Court precedent dating back to Roe v. Wade affirming that a state may not ban abortion prior to viability, meaning the point at which a fetus can survive for a sustained period outside the womb. 

Mississippi is one of nine states that passed unconstitutional abortion bans in 2019, including Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Ohio, and Utah. Of these bans, Mississippi’s is the furthest along in the court system. 

Mississippi is ranked last in the United States for the health of women and children in the state. Abortion is already very difficult to access in Mississippi, as there is only one clinic and countless hurdles pregnant patients face—including a requirement that a pregnant person make two in-person trips to the clinic and delay their abortion by at least 24-hours after the first visit. Other restrictions include state-mandated biased counseling for patients, a medically unnecessary and onerous regulatory scheme that applies only to abortion providers, a ban on the use of telemedicine for abortion care, and a law that restricts the provision of abortion to physicians only, which bars other qualified clinicians from providing abortion. These laws, in addition to the state’s 6-week ban and 15-week ban, are being challenged by the Center and co-counsel.

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MEDIA CONTACT: Nora Franco, nfranco@reprorights.org, 609-964-6759