Recent legal wrangling over a 1998 Mississippi Supreme Court ruling saying the state Constitution provides a right to an abortion highlights the uncertainty of Mississippi’s abortion ban.

On Friday the Mississippi Center for Justice and Democracy Forward filed a motion saying an anti-abortion lawsuit filed by a group conservative doctors should be thrown out.

The motion said the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists does not have standing to bring the case. The case was filed in November in Hinds County Chancery Court.

In the case, the Mississippi Center for Public Policy, on behalf of the doctors, is asking the Mississippi Supreme Court to overturn its 1998 ruling in Pro Choice Mississippi v. Fordice that said the state Constitution provides Mississippians a right to an abortion.

Rob McDuff, an attorney with the Mississippi Center for Justice, said the group filing the case is an out-of-state organization that is “not suffering any injuries from the existence of this (Pro Mississippi v. Fordice) precedence. They don’t have a case that belongs in court.”

There are no abortion clinics in Mississippi and most view Mississippi as a state where most abortions are banned. But in reality, the state has been in a strange legal limbo since June when the U.S. Supreme Court in a case brought by Mississippi overturned the national right to an abortion guaranteed by Roe v. Wade.

Mississippi already had laws in place banning most abortions in the state when Roe was overturned. But what state leaders did not account for was the 1998 state ruling saying the Mississippi Constitution granted the right to an abortion.

The Mississippi Center for Justice, arguing on behalf of its client, Jackson Women’s Health Organization, then the only abortion clinic in the state, contended that abortion should continue to be legal unless the 1998 state Supreme Court ruling was overturned by a new ruling from Mississippi’s highest court.

In an unusual ruling in early July, Chancery Judge Debbra Halford of Meadville, appointed to hear the case by the state Supreme Court, refused to block the laws banning abortions. One of her primary reasons for not blocking the laws is because she predicted the current state Supreme Court would reverse the ruling providing a right to abortion in the Mississippi Constitution.

The Mississippi Center for Justice appealed to the Supreme Court. But the state’s highest court refused to take up the case on an expedited schedule. Amid the uncertainty, Jackson Women’s Health Organization closed and the Mississippi Center for Justice dropped the appeal.

But in November the conservative leaning Mississippi Center for Public Policy filed a lawsuit to renew the case, claiming that because of the uncertainty caused by the existence of the 1998 Supreme Court ruling doctors who chose not to perform abortions could face punishment.

In Friday’s motion the Mississippi Center for Justice and Democracy Forward, both of which support abortion rights, said doctors face no penalties for not performing abortions in Mississippi and that the case should be dismissed.

The state already has intervened in the state. Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch argued that based on the fact that the chancery judge did not uphold the lawsuit by Jackson Women’s Health Organization that most abortions in the state are banned and the Pro Choice Mississippi v. Fordice ruling no longer is the law.

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Bobby Harrison, Mississippi Today’s senior capitol reporter, covers politics, government and the Mississippi State Legislature. He also writes a weekly news analysis which is co-published in newspapers statewide. A native of Laurel, Bobby joined our team June 2018 after working for the North Mississippi Daily Journal in Tupelo since 1984. He is president of the Mississippi Capitol Press Corps Association and works with the Mississippi State University Stennis Institute to organize press luncheons. Bobby has a bachelor's in American Studies from the University of Southern Mississippi and has received multiple awards from the Mississippi Press Association, including the Bill Minor Best Investigative/In-depth Reporting and Best Commentary Column.