Mississippi Continues to Defend 15-Week Abortion Ban Despite Searing Court Decision

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After a blistering court decision calling out Mississippi politicians for “gaslighting” women and wasting taxpayer money, the state continues fight for unconstitutional law
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(PRESS RELEASE) Today, one month after a federal district court judge struck down Mississippi’s ban on abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy, the state filed to appeal the decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. The ban was signed into law in March 2018 by Governor Phil Bryant and was temporarily blocked the very next day after the Center for Reproductive Rights filed a lawsuit on behalf of the last remaining abortion clinic in the state, Jackson Women’s Health Organization.

In a decision last month, District Judge Carlton W. Reeves admonished Mississippi for passing a law so “unequivocally” unconstitutional, writing that “[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. 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.”

“Mississippi is knowingly violating women’s constitutional rights in a shameless attempt to eradicate abortion access in the state,” said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights. “The district court resoundingly rejected this ban as a clear violation of Roe v. Wade and the appeals court should do the same.”

In striking down the 15-week ban, the District Court noted Mississippi’s ranking as one of the worst states in the country for women’s health, stating: “The Mississippi Legislature’s professed interest in ‘women’s health’ is pure gaslighting. . . . Its 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.” A recent analysis of state policies showed that Mississippi is one of the most restrictive states in the nation when it comes to abortion, and has enacted only a very small number of evidence-based policies known to actually support women’s and families’ health and well-being. 

The Court also criticized Mississippi’s history of denying rights to women and people of color: “[l]egislation like H.B. 1510 is closer to the old Mississippi—the Mississippi bent on controlling women and minorities. The Mississippi that, just a few decades ago, barred women from serving on juries ‘so they may continue their service as mothers, wives, and homemakers.’ . . . The Mississippi that, in Fannie Lou Hamer’s reporting, sterilized six out of ten black women in Sunflower County at the local hospital—against their will . . . . And the Mississippi that, in the early 1980s, was the last State to ratify the 19th Amendment—the authority guaranteeing women the right to vote.” 

That history also includes a step-by-step strategy to enact layers of abortion restrictions, many of which Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the Center for Reproductive Rights, and co-counsel are challenging in a separate part of the same lawsuit.  

The challenge to Mississippi’s 15-week ban was filed by Hillary Schneller, Julie Rikelman, Leah Wiederhorn, and Christine Parker of the Center for Reproductive Rights; Aaron Delaney, Caitlin Grusauskas, Alexia Korberg, Crystal Johnson, Roberto Gonzalez, and Claudia Hammerman of 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 and Sacheen Carr-Ellis, M.D., M.P.H., the clinic’s medical director.