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Mississippi defends 15-week abortion ban in appeals court

A federal court that rejected Mississippi's 15-week abortion ban should have let the state present evidence about whether a fetus experiences pain, an attorney for the state argued Monday.

Posted: Oct 7, 2019 5:48 PM

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A federal court that rejected Mississippi's 15-week abortion ban should have let the state present evidence about whether a fetus experiences pain, an attorney for the state argued Monday.

But a lawyer for Mississippi's only abortion clinic said the Supreme Court has been clear that a woman has a right to have an abortion before the fetus is viable.

The arguments came during a hearing at the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on a Mississippi law that would ban most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. It's one of many laws pushed by conservative states in recent years, aimed at trying to persuade the increasingly conservative Supreme Court to further restrict the amount of time when abortion is legally available, or even to overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.

That decision said women have the right to terminate pregnancies until viability, when a fetus can survive outside the womb.

After Republican Gov. Phil Bryant signed Mississippi's law in 2018, the Jackson Women's Health Organization immediately sued. U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves blocked the law from taking effect, writing that it "unequivocally" violates women's constitutional rights because it bans abortion weeks before viability.

Reeves wrote that viability must be determined by trained medical professionals, and the "established medical consensus" is that viability typically begins at 23 to 24 weeks after the pregnant woman's last menstrual period.

Mississippi and its supporters appealed to the 5th Circuit. Mississippi contends that Reeves overstepped his authority by only considering the case through the prism of viability.

"From that point on the outcome of this case was preordained," Paul Barnes, a special assistant attorney general, told the three-judge panel.

Barnes also suggested the 15-week standard had little effect on the Jackson clinic because they already refuse to perform abortions after 16 weeks.

"It is a prohibition for one week," Barnes said.

Hillary Schneller, a lawyer from the Center for Reproductive Rights which is representing the clinic, argued that the Supreme Court has been clear through decades of case law about a woman's right to an abortion before fetal viability.

"There is no dispute that 15 weeks is well before viability," she said.

At least one of the 5th Circuit judges seemed skeptical that viability should be the only standard. James C. Ho repeatedly asked whether a fetus feeling pain could ever be a factor in determining whether an abortion can be carried out. At one point, he asked if pain is "irrelevant."

Ho also questioned why discussion of the fetal pain question wasn't permitted during the lower court's proceedings.

"Where would we get that factual evidence if not at trial?" he asked.

The other justices — Patrick E. Higginbotham and James L. Dennis — asked few or no questions. Ho was nominated by President Donald Trump in 2017, Higginbotham by President Ronald Reagan in 1982 and Dennis by President Bill Clinton in 1995.

The 5th Circuit handles cases from Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas, and it's generally considered one of the most conservative appeals courts in the U.S.

Louisiana passed a 15-week abortion ban in 2018, but it takes effect only if the appeals court upholds the Mississippi law.

Even as the court fight continues over the 15-week ban, Mississippi lawmakers passed another law this year banning most abortions at about six weeks, when fetal cardiac activity can be detected. Reeves also blocked that law, saying it "smacks of defiance to this court." Attorneys are filing separate arguments about it to the 5th Circuit. The hearing Monday did not reference the 6-week ban.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 33591

Reported Deaths: 1204
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds264246
DeSoto176718
Madison135536
Jones115949
Neshoba101673
Harrison100312
Rankin99915
Lauderdale93781
Forrest92743
Scott78515
Jackson70417
Copiah62715
Washington62610
Leake59820
Lee57521
Holmes57041
Oktibbeha55728
Wayne55116
Warren54020
Yazoo5336
Grenada5227
Lowndes51513
Leflore50756
Lamar5007
Lincoln49234
Pike46617
Sunflower4368
Monroe43135
Lafayette4194
Covington3965
Panola3926
Bolivar37018
Attala36523
Simpson3603
Newton35210
Adams33218
Tate31912
Pontotoc3166
Marion30812
Chickasaw29119
Claiborne28910
Winston28210
Noxubee2738
Pearl River26932
Jasper2666
Marshall2643
Clay25111
Smith23412
Union23311
Coahoma2136
Clarke21125
Walthall2087
Lawrence1892
Yalobusha1838
Kemper17914
Carroll17111
Humphreys1569
Tallahatchie1564
Montgomery1432
Calhoun1425
Tippah14211
Itawamba1408
Hancock13413
Webster12811
Tunica1153
Jefferson1143
Jefferson Davis1144
Prentiss1113
Greene1089
Amite1043
George943
Wilkinson949
Tishomingo911
Quitman891
Alcorn762
Perry764
Choctaw754
Stone722
Franklin472
Benton420
Sharkey400
Issaquena101
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 48588

Reported Deaths: 1042
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson5687161
Mobile4315136
Montgomery4275109
Tuscaloosa238248
Marshall181511
Madison16208
Lee146337
Shelby141424
Morgan11575
Baldwin10399
Walker101825
Elmore97519
Dallas9189
Franklin90616
Etowah83413
DeKalb7905
Chambers64727
Autauga64312
Butler63728
Tallapoosa60669
Russell5890
Unassigned53826
Houston5366
Limestone5251
Lauderdale5146
Cullman4905
Lowndes47922
Pike4525
Colbert4426
St. Clair4402
Escambia4358
Calhoun4035
Coffee3923
Covington38110
Bullock36910
Barbour3622
Jackson3432
Talladega3337
Dale3261
Marengo32011
Hale31722
Wilcox2958
Clarke2876
Sumter28512
Winston2773
Chilton2762
Blount2581
Monroe2442
Pickens2446
Marion24114
Randolph2289
Conecuh2187
Macon2029
Choctaw19912
Bibb1981
Greene1888
Perry1791
Henry1403
Crenshaw1253
Washington1217
Lawrence1130
Cherokee1117
Geneva860
Lamar801
Fayette721
Clay692
Coosa601
Cleburne391
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