Lawsuits Over Mississippi’s Abortion Laws Could Cost The State A Fortune

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Back in March, Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant signed the Gestational Age Act, which outlawed most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. A federal judge permanently struck down this law last month, arguing that "states may not ban abortions prior to viability." However, Mississippi's attorney general subsequently announced that he would appeal the judge's ruling — and Mississippi's legal battle over abortion could cost $1 million or more, according to Mississippi Today.

The Gestational Age Act initially sought to ban all abortions after 15 weeks, only making exceptions for medical emergencies or "severe fetal abnormality," CNN reported. When Bryant signed this bill into law, he pledged his "commitment to making Mississippi the safest place in America for an unborn child." A court quickly issued a temporary block on the bill — a block that was extended several times, according to NPR — until District Judge Carlton Reeves permanently blocked it in November.

This week, however, Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood announced that he would appeal Reeves' decision. As a result, Mississippi Today reported, the 15-week ban is headed to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. This court previously ruled that Louisiana could not prevent Medicaid from being used to reimburse payments to Planned Parenthood, a decision that was later upheld by the Supreme Court.

Republican lawmakers have been trying to make Mississippi an abortion-free state for years, and in July, The New York Times described Mississippi as "the most restrictive U.S. state" in which to get an abortion. However, their anti-abortion stance comes with a hefty price tag.

According to Mississippi Today, Hood's office has spent $225,940 on state attorneys since 2012 in order to defend the state's abortion ban in three different cases. If these legal battles continue at this rate, they could cost taxpayers upward of $1 million — including the attorney's fees for the winning plaintiffs in abortion-related cases that the state loses.

Hood is a Democrat who announced in October that he would be running for Mississippi governor in 2019. However, he told reporters on Tuesday that he would appeal Reeves' block on the 15-week abortion ban because he feels it is his responsibility as the state's top lawyer.

“Three or four different federal circuit courts have ruled that 20 weeks was too short a time period restriction," Hood said on Tuesday. "The Fifth Circuit hasn’t ruled yet and it’s a more conservative court as far as circuit courts go, so we owe it to the Legislature."

When Reeves struck down the 15-week abortion ban, he argued in his ruling that “the Mississippi Legislature’s professed interest in ‘women’s health’ is pure gaslighting," and criticized the state's apparent penchant for "controlling women and minorities." In a statement published by the Center for Reproductive Rights earlier this week, the organization's president and CEO — Nancy Northup — echoed Reeves' concern.

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

The CRR's lawyers also argued that many of the state's other anti-abortion restrictions were invalidated by the 2016 Supreme Court ruling in Whole Woman’s Health vs. Hellerstedt, and they plan to take an amended abortion case to court in 2020. In the meantime, Mississippi's 15-week abortion ban will be tested by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals — just one step below the Supreme Court.