Appeals Court Strikes Down Mississippi 15-Week Abortion Ban

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(PRESS RELEASE)—Today, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court’s decision to strike down Mississippi’s ban on abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy. The case was brought by the Center for Reproductive Rights and Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison on behalf of Jackson Women’s Health Organization (JWHO)--the last remaining abortion clinic in Mississippi.

In today’s decision, Judge Patrick Higginbotham wrote: “In an unbroken line dating to Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court’s abortion cases have established (and affirmed, and re-affirmed) a woman’s right to choose an abortion before viability. States may regulate abortion procedures prior to viability so long as they do not impose an undue burden on the woman’s right, but they may not ban abortions.”

“The Fifth Circuit recognized today what is obvious: Mississippi’s abortion ban defies decades of Supreme Court precedent,” said Hillary Schneller, senior staff attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights. “With this ruling, Mississippi—and other states trying to put abortion out of reach—should finally get the message. Instead of wasting taxpayer dollars to defend multiple abortion bans that won’t stand up in court, they should be working on other issues—like addressing the state’s alarming maternal mortality rates.”

The 15-week abortion ban was passed last year and struck down by a district court in November 2018. In that decision, Judge Carlton W. Reeves stated “[t]he State chose to pass a law it knew was unconstitutional to endorse a decades long campaign, fueled by national interest groups, to ask the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade.” Just four months later, the state passed another, even more restrictive law banning abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, which has also been blocked by the Center for Reproductive Rights and its co-counsel. Of the recent abortion bans passed by states, Mississippi’s are the furthest along in the court system.

“Mississippi politicians have done everything in their power to cut off abortion access in our state. Despite these attempts, abortion remains legal in Mississippi and our clinic is open,” said Shannon Brewer, director of Jackson Women’s Health Organization. “But year after year, the state makes it harder to access abortion. Because of that, many of our patients drive hundreds of miles and spend weeks or months saving money to reach us—for abortion care, and for gas, a hotel, and to cover childcare.” 

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

Mississippi is one of nine states that passed abortion bans this year, including Georgia, Louisiana, Kentucky, Ohio, Alabama, Missouri, Arkansas, and Utah. Mississippi’s ban struck down today is the first of the recent bans to reach a federal appellate court.

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, state-mandated biased counseling, 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 in a single suit.

This case is being litigated by the Center for Reproductive Rights; Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP; civil rights attorney Robert B. McDuff in Jackson, Miss., and the Mississippi Center for Justice on behalf of Jackson Women’s Health Organization.

You can read the full decision here.

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MEDIA CONTACT: Kelly Krause, kkrause@reprorights.org; 917-637-3649