A three-judge panel has unanimously upheld a block on a Mississippi law that would ban most abortions once a baby's heartbeat is detected, which can be as early as six weeks into a pregnancy.
In a per curiam decision released Thursday, the panel from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed a preliminary injunction against the state law.
The panel opinion referenced an earlier legal decision against a different Mississippi law that banned most abortions performed after 15 weeks’ gestation.
“In 2018, Mississippi enacted a law prohibiting abortions, with limited exceptions, after 15 weeks’ gestational age. A district court enjoined the law, and we recently upheld that injunction,” explained the opinion.
“If a ban on abortion after 15 weeks is unconstitutional, then it follows that a ban on abortion at an earlier stage of pregnancy is also unconstitutional.”
The Center for Reproductive Rights, a pro-abortion group that brought the lawsuit against the state, celebrated the panel's decision.
“This is now the second time in two months the Fifth Circuit has told Mississippi that it cannot ban abortion,” said Hillary Schneller, senior staff attorney at CRR, on Thursday. “Despite the relentless attempts of Mississippi and other states, the right to legal abortion remains the law of the land.”
Pro-life groups, including LifeNews.com, denounced the panel's opinion.
“Unborn babies have a right to life and shouldn't be killed in abortions,” Life News tweeted Thursday evening.
Last March, then Gov. Phil Bryant signed Senate Bill 2116 into law. The measure bans most abortions once a baby's heartbeat can first be detected.
The state law included an exemption for abortions when a mother is facing a life threatening medical emergency in which the baby cannot be saved.
“I’ve often said I want Mississippi to be the safest place for an unborn child in America,” Bryant said on Twitter the month before he signed SB 2116.
He added, “I appreciate the leadership of the MS House and Senate, along with members of the legislature, for passing the fetal heartbeat bills today. I look forward to signing this act upon passage.”
In response, CRR filed suit against the law, expanding upon earlier litigation aimed at the 2018 state law banning most abortions after 15 weeks.
“Many women don’t even know they’re pregnant at six weeks, and this law would force them to carry their pregnancies to term,” stated CRR President Nancy Northup last year.
“Just four months ago, a federal judge told Mississippi they cannot ban abortion after 15 weeks, and now they’ve banned it even earlier. We will keep taking them to court until they get the message.”