Mississippi judge who blocked 15-week abortion ban hears arguments on fetal heartbeat law




 

U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves on Tuesday asked pointed questions about Mississippi's law that bans abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected, at approximately six weeks of pregnancy.

In 2018, Reeves was the judge who struck down a 15-week abortion ban.

"Doesn't it boil down to six is less than 15?" Reeves asked, adding that the new law "smacks of defiance to this court."

In his prior decision, Reeves wrote that "Mississippi's law violates Supreme Court precedent, and in doing so it disregards the 14th Amendment guarantee of autonomy for women desiring to control their own reproductive health."

Gov. Phil Bryant signed the bill into law in March and it's set to take effect July 1 if it's not blocked. The bill makes no exceptions for women who are victims of 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.

The Center for Reproductive Rights filed the legal challenge on behalf of Jackson Women's Health Organization (JWHO), the state's last remaining abortion clinic, which does not perform abortions after 16 weeks.

Hillary Schneller, staff attorney for the Center for Reproductive Rights, said Mississippi's heartbeat law is "blatantly unconstitutional" and likely won't survive a federal court challenge.

"It's critical to remind people that none of these bans have taken effect and we don't expect any of them to take effect," Schneller told USA TODAY. "Every person deserves access to abortion no matter what state they live in."

Opponents say the six-week bans, or heartbeat bills, are similar to total abortion bans because many women don't know they are pregnant at six weeks.

Three other states - Georgia, Ohio and Kentucky - have enacted heartbeat bills this year. A Kentucky judge temporarily blocked the state's bill in March saying the American Civil Liberties Union's claim that it was unconstitutional would likely succeed in court.

The ACLU filed a federal lawsuit last week challenging Ohio's law, seeking an order to stop it from taking effect July 10. The ACLU has said it plans to challenge Georgia's heartbeat bill before it takes effect in January.

Jennifer Dalven, director of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, said Georgia's law is likely to also get struck down.

"While there is some question whether the Supreme Court would overturn (Roe v. Wade)," Dalven said. "The federal district courts have no power to disregard the (unconstitutionality of abortion bans) even if they don't like it."

At least 17 states nationwide are considering or have passed laws this year that restrict abortion rights.

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

Last week, Alabama enacted the most extreme abortion ban the country has seen since the landmark Roe v. Wade decision in 1973. The law only allows abortion if the mother or fetus' lives are in danger and mandates prison time for doctors who perform the procedure.

Emboldened by a new conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court, Republican lawmakers say they are passing anti-abortion bills in an attempt to get Roe v. Wade overturned.

The Center for Reproductive Rights has 26 active lawsuits challenging anti-abortion bills across the country. Schneller said the Center and partnering organizations vow to challenge any law that strips women of their rights to an abortion.

Contributing: Sarah Fowler, Mississippi Clarion-Ledger

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Mississippi judge who blocked 15-week abortion ban hears arguments on fetal heartbeat law

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