U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves has temporarily blocked Mississippi’s ban on abortions at 15 weeks. Less than 24 hours before, Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant (R) had signed HB 1510 into law, which prohibited abortions from being performed after 15 weeks of gestation for any reason other than severe fetal abnormalities or physical medical emergencies. Bryant had proudly written on social media after the signing on Monday, “We are saving more of the unborn than any state in America, and what better thing can we do?” The law was the most restrictive in the country regarding abortion.
Reeves cited precedent when he wrote that HB 1510 merely restricts abortion earlier than what the Supreme Court has allowed. “That right protects her choice 'to have an abortion before viability'” he wrote. “States cannot 'prohibit any woman from making the ultimate decision' to do so." While his ruling is temporary, the language Reeves used gave an indication of what his final decision would be. “Does the state have the right to trump the woman's right to have control over her decisions, over her body?” he asked.
When the took effect, Mississippi’s last remaining abortion facility sued immediately. Within an hour of the signing, the Center of Reproductive Rights filed a lawsuit on behalf of Women’s Health Organization (WHO) of Jackson, Mississippi. The lawsuit demanded that Judge Reeves immediately prevent the enforcement of HB 1510. “Under decades of United States Supreme Court precedent, the state of Mississippi cannot ban abortion prior to viability, regardless of what exceptions are provided to the ban,” the lawsuit argues. It says that it performed 78 abortions past 15 weeks in 2017, or about 3% of Mississippi’s 2,500 abortions last year.
Abortionist Dr. Sacheen Carr-Ellis declared in the lawsuit that women who want abortions should be able to “make the decision that is best for her about the course of her pregnancy, based on her own values and goals for her life.” Carr-Ellis declared in the lawsuit that HB 1510 would have the impact of forcing the cancellation of an abortion scheduled for Tuesday. Gov. Bryant responded, saying that the abortion in question would have been the first life saved by the law. “I pray today we have saved the first life of an unborn child in Mississippi,” he tweeted. Bryant said the law would “be worth fighting over” in court.
State House Speaker Philip Gunn said that Mississippi is “absolutely” ready to take on the costs of a legal battle, because “I don't know if you can put any value on human life […] Whatever challenges we have to take on to do that, is something we're willing to do.”
Judicial precedent means that abortion cannot be banned prior to fetal viability. And while the Supreme Court refused in 2014 to consider the constitutionality of a 20-week ban in Arizona, some experts note that the high court has acknowledged a “compelling interest in protecting the unborn child” as pregnancy progresses. Should the an appeal of the lawsuit go to the Supreme Court, a decision may hinge on whether Justice Anthony Kennedy remains on the bench. Kennedy has shown some interest in some limits to abortion. Republican Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada predicted this month that Kennedy may retire this summer, thus providing President Trump the opportunity to appoint a pro-life justice, such as Justice Neil Gorsuch, who he successfully nominated last year.
Judge Reeves was appointed by Barack Obama in 2010.