Appeals court rules against Mississippi law banning abortions after 15 weeks

Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant signing House Bill 1510 into law on Monday, March 19, 2018. The new law bans most abortions after 15 weeks gestation, making it the strictest abortion law in the nation. | (Screenshot: Facebook/Phil Bryant)

A three judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit has ruled against a Mississippi law banning abortions after 15 weeks into a pregnancy with some exceptions.

In the case of Jackson Women’s Health Organization v. Thomas E. Dobbs, the panel issued a unanimous ruling last Friday upholding a lower court decision against the law.

Circuit Judge Patrick Higginbotham, author of the panel opinion, wrote that the law, known as the “Gestational Age Act,” went against “a woman’s right to choose an abortion before viability.”

“States may regulate abortion procedures prior to viability so long as they do not impose an undue burden on the woman’s right, but they may not ban abortions,” wrote Higginbotham.

“The law at issue is a ban. Thus, we affirm the district court’s invalidation of the law, as well as its discovery rulings and its award of permanent injunctive relief.”

Hillary Schneller, senior staff attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights, which is helping to represent Jackson Women’s Health, celebrated the Fifth Circuit panel ruling.

“With this ruling, Mississippi—and other states trying to put abortion out of reach—should finally get the message,” said Schneller in a statement.

“Instead of wasting taxpayer dollars to defend multiple abortion bans that won’t stand up in court, they should be working on other issues—like addressing the state’s alarming maternal mortality rates.”

In response to the decision, Governor Phil Bryant took to social media to vow that he was planning to continue defending the law in court.

“We will sustain our efforts to fight for America’s unborn children,” he stated, as reported by the Associated Press. “Mississippi will continue this mission to the United States Supreme Court.”

In March 2018, Bryant signed House Bill 1510. The new law pushed back the state ban on abortions from 20 weeks into a pregnancy to 15 weeks.

The new law allowed for exemptions of medical emergency and severe fetal abnormality that would prevent the child from surviving outside the womb.

Groups like Pro-Life Mississippi supported the new law, saying in a statement posted to Facebook that the law "recognizes the biological reality that babies in the womb at 16 weeks have a heartbeat and DNA unique from the parents."

"These human beings in the womb deserve the right to life, which is supported by this law," stated Pro-Life Mississippi at the time.

"We appreciate Governor Bryant and our legislators who have supported bills like this one that are grounded in science and protect human life."

Jackson Women's Health, the only licensed abortion clinic in the state, filed a lawsuit immediately after the law was signed and was able to get a restraining order.

Follow Michael Gryboski on Twitter or Facebook

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