Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban was blocked on Friday by a federal appeals court — and in doing so, the judge may have affected the outcome of a similar appeal in Louisiana.
The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals said that when U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves first blocked the law in 2018, his ruling was correct, the Associated Press reports.
Attorneys arguing in favor of the law say that a 15-week restriction is a regulation, not a ban. States are legally allowed to regulate abortion. Reeves’ ruling to protect the services of Mississippi’s lone remaining abortion clinic relied on a question presented in many abortion policy cases: when is a fetus viable?
“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,” the appeals court wrote, per AP. “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.”
Mississippi’s single abortion clinic sued the state after Republican Gov. Phil Bryant signed the law in 2018. Currently, the clinic provides abortions until 16 weeks. As part of the trial, the clinic presented evidence proving fetal viability is not possible at 15 weeks. The appeals court conceded that there is no “medical evidence that a fetus would be viable at 15 weeks,” citing that viability typically begins at 23 or 24 weeks into a pregnancy. Had it passed, the law would have made exceptions to the 15-week ban in the event of a medical emergency or fetal abnormality. Doctors violating the Mississippi law would face mandatory suspension and possible revocation of their medical license.
The Center for Reproductive Rights praised the ruling, saying that the attempted ban defies decades of Supreme Court precedent. “With this ruling, Mississippi – and other states trying to put abortion out of reach – should finally get the message,” CRR staff attorney Hillary Schneller said in a statement to CNN.
BREAKING: We just won our case challenging Mississippi's 15-week abortion ban!— Center for Reproductive Rights (@ReproRights) December 14, 2019
Mississippi is one of nine states that passed abortion bans this year. The ban struck down today is the first of the recent bans to reach a federal appellate court.
In blocking the Mississippi law, the 5th Circuit — which oversees cases from Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas — put a similar law on hold in Louisiana. A 15-week abortion ban signed by Lousiana’s Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards in 2018 includes a provision to only take effect should a federal court uphold Mississippi’s 15-week ban. The 5th Circuit is considered one of the most conservative federal courts in the country.
In 2019, Mississippi legislators devised and passed an exceedingly more restrictive 6-week abortion ban. Reeves blocked this law as well; however, the legal fight over it continues.