'Here we go again.' Federal judge blocks Mississippi's 'heartbeat' abortion law


JACKSON, Miss. - A federal judge on Friday issued a strongly worded preliminary injunction blocking Mississippi's "heartbeat" abortion law, that would have banned abortions as early as six weeks into a pregnancy, when a fetal heartbeat is detected.

U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves' order will combine the lawsuit against Mississippi's fetal heartbeat ban with an ongoing one against the state's previous 15-week abortion ban.

"Here we go again," Reeves wrote. "Mississippi has passed another law banning abortions prior to viability. The latest interpretation (Mississippi's new law) bans abortions in Mississippi after a fetal heartbeat is detected, which is as early as 6 weeks."

The Center for Reproductive Rights had filed a lawsuit challenging Mississippi's latest abortion ban, which was set to become law July 1.

More: Where is abortion legal? Everywhere. But ...

Opponents of Mississippi's newest law said that it unconstitutionally bans abortion before "viability." The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that a state cannot deny a woman an abortion before the fetus reaches viability, typically around 23 to 24 weeks of pregnancy.

Attorneys for the state - and political leaders including Gov. Phil Bryant - argue Mississippi has an interest in protecting unborn children.

The Center for Reproductive Rights on Friday tweeted: "Once again the rule of law has prevailed over political ploys to control personal health decisions. We'll fight tooth and nail to make sure all of these bans meet the same fate."

In a statement Friday, Bryant called the ruling "disappointing."

"As Governor, I've pledged to do all I can to protect life," Bryant said. "Time and time again the Legislature and I have done just that. I will encourage the Attorney General to seek immediate review of the preliminary injunction."

Attorney General Jim Hood in a statement said, "The Fifth Circuit has not squarely addressed this issue, and I intend to appeal this order which enjoined the effective date of the fetal heartbeat bill."

Reeves heard arguments in the case in Jackson on Tuesday. Last year, he blocked a similar Mississippi ban on abortions after 15 weeks and said the new law "smacks of defiance to this court." The state is appealing Reeves' ruling on the 15-week ban.

"Doesn't it boil down to six is less than 15?" Reeves asked in the Tuesday hearing.

Reeves had permanently enjoined the 15 week ban, saying it is unconstitutional, and in his Friday ruling said, "The parties have been here before. Last spring, plaintiffs successfully challenged Mississippi's ban on abortion after 15 weeks."

He noted that "The State passed a new abortion ban while its present abortion ban is in active litigation" and said it would not "make sense" to force the plaintiffs to challenge the new law in a separate lawsuit.

In Tuesday's hearing, Reeves had questioned Mississippi's latest law lacking exceptions for cases of pregnancy by rape or incest.

"So a child who is raped at 10 or 11 years old, that child does not open their mouth, doesn't tell their parents, the rapist may be in their home, nobody discovers until it's too late - that is a fetal heartbeat has been detected - that child must bring the fetus to term under this statute, if the fetal heartbeat can be detected," Reeves said.

Mississippi has joined other states in passing increasingly restrictive anti-abortion legislation, with the intent to overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade abortion decision.

Alabama recently passed the most restrictive abortion law in the country, not only banning abortions after a heartbeat can be detected but punishing doctors who perform abortions with a possible 99-year prison sentence. Like Mississippi's law, the Alabama law does not allow exceptions for rape or incest.

Kentucky's governor signed a similar bill into law in March, and a federal judge temporarily blocked it just hours later, ruling it was "potentially unconstitutional." Ohio, Georgia and Missouri have also passed heartbeat abortion bans, and a similar measure is moving through the Louisiana Legislature.

The sole abortion clinic in Mississippi, Jackson Women's Health Organization, currently does not perform abortions past 16 weeks of pregnancy.

Follow Geoff Pender on Twitter: @GeoffPender

This article originally appeared on Mississippi Clarion Ledger: 'Here we go again.' Federal judge blocks Mississippi's 'heartbeat' abortion law


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