Federal Judge Overturns Mississippi Law That Banned Abortion After 15 Weeks

By Ayana Byrd Nov 21, 2018

A federal judge blocked a Mississippi law that pro-choice advocates called the most restrictive abortion legislation in the United States.

On Tuesday (November 20), Judge Carlton W. Reeves granted a permanent injunction against the law and called it “unconstitutional” in his ruling. He also wrote that its passage had been “fueled by national interest groups, to ask the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade."

In March, Governor Phil Bryant of Mississippi signed the Gestational Age Act into law, saying that he was “saving the unborn.” The law prohibited abortions after 15 weeks of gestation and imposed civil penalties for physicians who violated the law. It made no exceptions for cases of rape or incest, only for, the law reads, “a medical emergency, or in the case of a severe fetal abnormality.” It also called the procedure “a barbaric practice, dangerous for the maternal patient and demeaning to the medical profession.”

The Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the state’s only abortion clinic, filed a complaint with the United States District Court for Mississippi’s Southern District within an hour of the governor signing the bill. The next day, Judge Reeves issued a temporary injunction that put the law on hold.

Lawyers representing the clinic, reported The New York Times, “said that the law violated longstanding Supreme Court precedent, established in Roe v. Wade and reaffirmed in a 2016 case, Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, that states may not ban abortions before they are deemed viable outside the womb, which is generally at about 24 to 26 weeks.”

In his ruling against the law, Judge Reeves cited evidence that placed viability of a fetus between 23 and 24 weeks. He also said the law “disregards” not only the 14th Amendment of the Constitution—which guarantees due process—but also precedent already set by the United States Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade. He wrote, “This court follows the commands of the Supreme Court and the dictates of the United States Constitution, rather than the disingenuous calculations of the Mississippi Legislature.” Per The Times:


He added, in a footnote, that the Legislature’s “professed interest in ‘women’s health’ is pure gaslighting” and that Mississippi officials challenge abortion rights but “choose not to lift a finger to address the tragedies lurking on the other side of the delivery room: our alarming infant and maternal mortality rates.”

Mississippi has the largest percentage of Black residents of all 50 states at 37.7 percent. And according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, one out of three Black Mississippi residents lives below the poverty line.

Mississippi law previously prohibited abortions after 20 weeks. As Colorlines has reported, abortion restrictions place disproportionate hardships on women with low incomes, young women and women of color, who are more likely to seek this care later in their pregnancies due to barriers such as long waiting periods, lack of Medicaid funding and the need to travel long distances to access medical providers. Last week, Governor Bryant called the abortion rate of African-Americans “genocide.”

In an emailed statement, Dr. Willie Parker, board chair of Physicians for Reproductive Health, said, “[The law] is not only unconstitutional, but it denies necessary health care to patients, while shaming them and endangering their lives.” He added, “Patients in Mississippi need more access to care. Politicians must stop trying to deny women their right to live a life with dignity and self-determination.”

Judge Reeves’ decision has implications beyond Mississippi. As reported by The Advocate, “Louisiana lawmakers earlier this year passed a similar 15-week ban but made it so that it would only take effect if a federal court upholds the Mississippi law. The contingency was added because of concerns over the cost of defending it in court.”

The state is expected to challenge the ruling through the appeals process.