Judge: Mississippi 6-week abortion ban 'smacks of defiance'

MGN Online

A federal judge who struck down Mississippi's 15-week abortion ban last year said during a court hearing Tuesday that the state's legislators defied his ruling by passing a new law that sets the ban even earlier.

Posted: May 21, 2019 4:18 PM

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — A federal judge who struck down Mississippi's 15-week abortion ban last year said during a court hearing Tuesday that the state's legislators defied his ruling by passing a new law that sets the ban even earlier.

The new law — which is not yet in effect — would prohibit most abortions once a fetal heartbeat can be detected, at about six weeks, when many women may not know they're pregnant.

Mississippi is one of several states enacting abortion restrictions this year in hopes that the U.S. Supreme Court, with new conservative justices, will reevaluate and maybe overturn its 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion nationwide.

U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves said Mississippi legislators passed the six-week law this year knowing he had declared the 15-week ban unconstitutional because it prohibited access to abortion before viability, which is generally considered to be about 23 or 24 weeks.

"It sure smacks of defiance to this court," Reeves said.

Republican Gov. Phil Bryant signed the new law in March, and the state's only abortion clinic, Jackson Women's Health Organization, quickly sued the state.

Reeves heard arguments Tuesday on the clinic's request that he block the law from taking effect July 1. He said he would decide soon, but did not indicate when he would issue a ruling.

"Doesn't it boil down to: Six is less than 15?" Reeves asked.

Governors in Kentucky, Ohio and Georgia have signed bans on abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected. Alabama's governor signed a measure making abortion a felony in nearly all cases.

The Mississippi law says physicians who perform abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected could face revocation of their state medical licenses. It also says abortions could be allowed after a fetal heartbeat is found if a pregnancy endangers a woman's life or one of her major bodily functions. Senators rejected an amendment that would have allowed exceptions for pregnancies caused by rape or incest.

Hillary Schneller, an attorney for the Center for Reproductive Rights, said the Mississippi law is "clearly unconstitutional" because it bans abortion before viability.

If the law were to take effect, "Women will be forced to leave the state to obtain legal abortions ... or will be forced to remain pregnant against their will," Schneller said.

Mississippi Special Assistant Attorney General Paul Barnes said the new law is not an outright ban on abortion but a limitation on when the procedure can be done.

"When a fetal heartbeat is detected, our position is it is constitutional" to prohibit abortion, Barnes said. He also said the state respectfully disagrees with Reeves' ruling on the 15-week ban.

If Reeves temporarily blocks the new Mississippi law, he would hear arguments later on the larger question of constitutionality.

Reeves asked Barnes whether a 10- or 11-year-old girl who is impregnated by rape would have to carry the pregnancy to full term if she waited too long to tell anyone what had happened to her. Barnes said he did not know whether a family court judge would allow the child to have an abortion after the fetal heartbeat is found. Barnes said the man who impregnated the girl could be charged with capital rape.

Reeves said legislators were aware the law did not allow exceptions for rape or incest. Barnes said he did not know if they knew, and Reeves responded: "Well, they speak through their statute."

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 245847

Reported Deaths: 5356
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto16717168
Hinds15748310
Harrison12806188
Rankin10334204
Jackson9996172
Lee8666135
Madison7994158
Jones6112108
Forrest5826117
Lauderdale5672174
Lowndes5186106
Lafayette482792
Lamar471162
Washington4700122
Bolivar3915105
Oktibbeha384279
Panola357274
Pontotoc356552
Monroe3463101
Union334755
Warren334692
Marshall333264
Neshoba3310149
Pearl River313891
Leflore2969104
Lincoln290185
Sunflower275868
Tate264759
Alcorn257850
Itawamba257058
Pike254876
Hancock246957
Prentiss240047
Scott238743
Copiah235649
Yazoo235054
Tippah233845
Simpson230166
Leake226764
Coahoma219054
Grenada213970
Covington207171
Marion203371
Adams200065
Winston196260
George195937
Wayne193029
Attala190958
Newton185142
Chickasaw179943
Tishomingo179059
Holmes167467
Jasper163533
Clay155632
Stone138818
Tallahatchie137033
Clarke135160
Calhoun132021
Smith117322
Yalobusha112534
Walthall110536
Noxubee108922
Greene108229
Montgomery107134
Carroll102320
Lawrence99817
Perry98631
Amite95725
Webster90024
Claiborne84125
Tunica84021
Jefferson Davis82925
Humphreys80324
Benton79722
Kemper75620
Quitman6678
Franklin64613
Choctaw59412
Wilkinson57424
Jefferson52019
Sharkey42317
Issaquena1576
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 414583

Reported Deaths: 5945
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson60842887
Mobile29590538
Madison26466183
Tuscaloosa20537267
Montgomery18562304
Shelby18181112
Baldwin15841177
Lee1212097
Morgan12002112
Etowah11488142
Calhoun10863197
Marshall10048106
Houston8405123
Cullman792294
Limestone785073
Elmore7670101
DeKalb757282
St. Clair7417120
Lauderdale740282
Talladega6036108
Walker5834176
Jackson571937
Colbert522270
Blount521980
Autauga507555
Coffee431456
Dale388278
Franklin362145
Chilton332965
Covington325567
Russell318910
Escambia309842
Dallas297988
Chambers275769
Clarke272933
Tallapoosa2591107
Pike245829
Lawrence239345
Marion238649
Winston222535
Bibb211347
Geneva196331
Marengo196329
Pickens195331
Hale172542
Barbour169636
Butler166958
Fayette164026
Cherokee158330
Henry149219
Monroe143617
Randolph137635
Washington135426
Clay124446
Crenshaw117444
Lamar116819
Cleburne115123
Macon111935
Lowndes107935
Wilcox99921
Bullock97128
Perry95019
Conecuh92820
Sumter89126
Greene75123
Coosa59814
Choctaw50824
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