One day after a Republican governor signed the nation's most restrictive abortion ban into law, a federal judge temporarily blocked Mississippi's 15-week abortion ban. U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves granted a temporary restraining order after Mississippi's only abortion clinic argued the new law would prevent a patient from getting an abortion scheduled for Tuesday afternoon, the Associated Press reports. The ban went into effect immediately when Gov. Phil Bryant signed it Monday, and it was blocked by the court less than 24 hours later.
Reeves heard arguments from the Jackson Women’s Health Organization and the state Tuesday morning, where Special Assistant Attorney General Paul Barnes said the state's goal is to protect "unborn life." The judge ultimately sided with Mississippi's only abortion clinic, however. The clinic's attorney, Rob McDuff, told the court that a woman who is at least 15 weeks pregnant was supposed to have an abortion at Jackson Women’s Health Organization that same day.
Bryant has previously said he wants "to end abortions in Mississippi," and championed the 15-week ban from the beginning. "I was proud to sign House Bill 1510 this afternoon," the governor tweeted Monday. "I am committed to making Mississippi the safest place in America for an unborn child, and this bill will help us achieve that goal."
Pro-choice advocates believe the 15-week ban is unconstitutional because it blocks abortion access before a fetus is viable outside the womb. The Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision prohibited states from preventing women from having abortions before viability. SCOTUS' opinion states that viability is "usually placed at about seven months (28 weeks) but may occur earlier, even at 24 weeks."
“Abortion is a safe medical procedure and it is a critical part of the broad spectrum of reproductive health care that a woman may use in her lifetime,” said Felicia Brown-Williams, Mississippi state director for Planned Parenthood Southeast Advocates, in a statement when the bill was approved by the state House earlier this month. She added:
“This ban is not only unconstitutional — it endangers women’s health care across our state. If legislators truly cared about women’s health, they would be focused on ways to improve access to health care for women, not restrict it.”
Diane Derzis, the owner of Mississippi's sole abortion clinic, warned that Jackson Women’s Health Organization was willing to sue the state if the bill passed, since it would be forced to refer women at or past the 15-week mark to out-of-state clinics. Derzis predicted the bill would become law, telling The Clarion-Ledger, "Bryant has never seen an abortion bill he didn't like." She didn't waste any time following through on her promise.
The Center for Reproductive Rights also announced Monday that it had already filed a lawsuit challenging the law. “Politicians are not above the rule of law, and we are confident this dangerous bill will be struck down like every similar attempt before it," said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, in a statement. As the organization's statement noted, courts have previously struck down laws banning abortion before viability in Arizona, Arkansas, and North Dakota.
Currently, 24 states prohibit abortions at a certain number of weeks, with the majority prohibiting abortions 20 weeks after fertilization. Mississippi's 15-week ban is the earliest in the nation.
Although the temporary restraining order is good news for the clinic, it's just that: temporary. The forthcoming legal battle will cost both the clinic and the state's taxpayers while the court determines whether or not Mississippi's 15-week ban is constitutional. In the meantime, though, Jackson Women’s Health Organization can continue performing abortions past 15 weeks of pregnancy.