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.

Confirmed Cases: 15229

Reported Deaths: 723
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds99925
Lauderdale73561
Madison72023
Scott65012
Neshoba63038
Jones59825
Forrest55338
DeSoto5337
Rankin4217
Leake42112
Holmes39728
Copiah3104
Jackson30513
Attala29216
Yazoo2734
Newton2714
Leflore25831
Harrison2577
Lincoln25628
Monroe25525
Lamar2355
Oktibbeha23512
Lowndes2119
Pearl River20931
Pike20211
Adams19615
Noxubee1856
Wayne1771
Warren1719
Washington1687
Covington1652
Bolivar16011
Jasper1574
Smith15011
Lee1496
Kemper14411
Clarke14318
Chickasaw13312
Lafayette1314
Coahoma1214
Carroll11711
Marion1159
Clay1124
Winston1121
Claiborne1112
Lawrence1021
Simpson1010
Yalobusha905
Hancock9011
Tate891
Grenada893
Wilkinson889
Itawamba877
Union835
Marshall833
Montgomery831
Sunflower813
Jefferson Davis772
Tippah7311
Panola703
Webster691
Calhoun644
Humphreys607
Amite601
Walthall550
Tunica543
Prentiss523
Perry503
Choctaw432
Jefferson421
Tishomingo320
Pontotoc323
Stone300
Franklin282
Tallahatchie271
Quitman260
George251
Alcorn171
Benton150
Greene121
Sharkey70
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 17359

Reported Deaths: 618
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Mobile2191115
Jefferson1780102
Montgomery163238
Tuscaloosa73814
Marshall6879
Franklin5457
Lee54033
Shelby50319
Tallapoosa42364
Butler40217
Chambers35325
Walker3442
Elmore3398
Madison3274
Baldwin2839
Dallas2603
Morgan2511
Etowah24811
DeKalb2433
Lowndes23812
Coffee2291
Sumter2206
Autauga2164
Houston2094
Bullock2034
Pike1980
Colbert1782
Russell1670
Marengo1636
Lauderdale1612
Hale1598
Calhoun1543
Choctaw1518
Barbour1501
Wilcox1447
Clarke1422
Cullman1260
Randolph1257
Marion12111
St. Clair1181
Pickens1114
Dale1100
Talladega1093
Chilton1001
Limestone940
Greene944
Winston880
Covington771
Jackson772
Crenshaw763
Macon754
Henry742
Bibb721
Washington686
Blount611
Escambia573
Lawrence480
Geneva400
Conecuh391
Coosa381
Monroe372
Perry370
Cherokee373
Clay272
Lamar230
Fayette150
Cleburne141
Unassigned00
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