‘Personal dignity and autonomy’: Federal judge temporarily blocks 6-week abortion ban

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Eric J. Shelton, Mississippi Today/Report For America

Valencia Robinson attends the pro-choice rally outside of the Mississippi Capitol in Jackson, Miss., Tuesday, May 21, 2019.

Mississippi’s controversial six-week abortion ban won’t take effect this summer — at least not yet.

Days after a hearing on the matter, U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves issued an order Friday afternoon temporarily blocking the ban, which had been set to take effect July 1.

“Here we go again. Mississippi has passed another law banning abortions prior to viability,” Reeves wrote in the opening sentences of his order.

Reeves’ ruling underscored questions he asked in this week’s hearing, including that he already permanently struck down Mississippi’s 15-week ban, which the Legislature passed during the 2018 legislative session. His decision spoke to a U.S. Supreme Court precedent on abortion, as established by Roe v. Wade (1973), that protects a woman’s ability to have an abortion until the fetus can live outside of the womb, typically after the 21st week of pregnancy. If a fetus is not viable at 15 weeks, it is not viable at six weeks, he wrote.

The six-week ban “threatens immediate harm to women’s rights, especially considering most women do not seek abortion services until after 6 weeks,” Reeves wrote. “Allowing the law to take effect would force the clinic to stop providing most abortion care.”

The Legislature passed a law this year that would ban abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected, which often occurs as early as six weeks into a pregnancy. Soon afterwards the Center for Reproductive Rights sued the state on behalf of the state’s only abortion clinic. Their argument was that the six-week ban violates long-standing constitutional protections for abortion procedures.

Reeves granted the center’s request for a preliminary injunction, writing the six-week ban “prevents a woman’s free choice, which is central to personal dignity and autonomy. This injury outweighs any interest the State might have in banning abortions after the detection of a fetal heartbeat.”

Reeves, a Barack Obama appointee, also allowed the Center for Reproductive Justice’s request to add a challenge of the six-week ban to their existing lawsuit challenging the 15-week ban rather than filing an separate suit.

Cleoinc.org

U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves

“Unfortunately, the legislature and the Governor think they should make these decisions for women instead of letting women make their own decisions about childbirth,” Rob McDuff, an attorney with the Mississippi Center for Justice said in a release. “Fortunately, the federal court has once again stepped in to block this egregious governmental intrusion on the private lives of Mississippi’s women.”

Shannon Brewer, director of Jackson Women’s Health Organization, said most of the women who receive services at Mississippi’s only abortion clinic are past six weeks of pregnancy when they get the procedure.

“It’s important for Mississippi women to know that this law has been blocked and we are still open,” Brewer said. “Abortion is still legal in our state.”

Gov. Phil Bryant said in a statement Friday that he wanted the attorney general to seek an immediate review of the injunction.

“I’m disappointed in the court’s ruling. As governor I’ve pledged to do all I can to protect life. Time and time again the Legislature and I have done just that,” Bryant said.

Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, a pro-life Republican who is running for governor, said in the statement: “Our Heartbeat Bill will save lives and protect a generation of Mississippi children with beating hearts. It is no surprise that the Obama-appointed lower court Federal Judge granted this injunction, nor is it a surprise that Jim Hood couldn’t find time in his schedule to show up to defend these unborn babies. Mississippi must press on and this ruling should be appealed immediately.”

Hood, attorney general and a pro-life Democrat also seeking the governorship, represented the state in the suit. Hood said through a spokeswoman that he intends to appeal because the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had not “squarely addressed” this issue.