Anti-choice politicians should remember: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Last month, Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant signed into law the nation's most extreme abortion restriction yet: The first-ever 15-week abortion ban, with exceptions only in the case of a threat to the mother's life. And now the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR), along with reproductive rights advocates in Mississippi, are fighting back with a mega-lawsuit challenging dozens of anti-choice laws in the state, some of which have been on the books for decades.
The suit, which was filed Monday morning, is an expansion of the emergency suit filed to request an temporary restraining order of the 15-week ban, which a federal judge granted soon after. Filed on behalf of the state's only abortion clinic, Jackson Women's Health, the expanded suit challenges a ban on telemedicine abortion consultations, a 24-hour waiting period and state-mandated counselling law that requires women to come to the clinic in-person twice, a law that says only physicians can perform abortions, and the state's burdensome licensing scheme for abortion clinics.
"These laws are designed for one purpose only and that's to put us out of business," Diane Derzis, owner of Jackson Women's Health, said on a call with reporters Monday morning.
The lawsuit is a bold step, but it's not the first of its kind, added Nancy Northup, CRR's president and CEO, on the same call. The centre filed a similarly bold lawsuit in 2017 in Louisiana, and a federal judge there recently ruled the suit could move forward.
Emboldened by the Louisiana decision as well as the Supreme Court's 2016 decision in Whole Women's Health V. Hellerstedt that clarified that abortion laws could not cause an "undue burden" on women's access to the procedure, the centre is convinced that now is the time to act, not just against the 15-week ban, but also to turn the tide on years of piling on that has affected women's ability to access abortion in Mississippi and beyond.
"We’re seeing a level of aggressiveness this year. Mississippi’s 15-week ban is blatantly unconstitutional," Northup said, adding that 15-week ban is just "the straw that broke the camel's back" on top of all the other regulations.
Although the Supreme Court has upheld a 24-hour waiting period in the past, Northup is hopeful that courts will re-consider the standard. "What we’re seeing now is the real effect [of the waiting period.] We can see it is burdensome," Northup said. "Women are able to make decisions about their health without being told to go home and think about it."
All of this is a response to intensifying anti-choice efforts to completely ban abortion, by either strangling providers with the "death by a thousand cuts strategy" of overregulation or setting up a legal challenge that will make it to a Supreme Court that is more hostile to reproductive rights than it has been in decades.
Elizabeth Nash, senior state issues manager at the Guttmacher Institute, previously told Refinery29 that the 15-week abortion ban is an example of the latest in the anti-choice lobby's bag of evil tricks. "The next move by abortion opponents is to come up with a ban that is later in pregnancy than six weeks, but earlier than 20 weeks," Nash said. "This is something to watch very carefully, and to see how the courts react. It's different than a six-week abortion ban, but they all have the same goal in mind."
But as this latest suit shows, the Center for Reproductive Rights has their own strategy in mind. If they win in this latest challenge, this could spell relief for women in other states as well. "These restrictive laws aren’t necessary in Mississippi or across the nation," Northup said. "We certainly would look forward to knocking these laws out in other states.