UPDATE, 11/26/18: According to the Daily Journal, Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood, a Democrat, says he plans to appeal the U.S. District Court judge’s ruling because “other federal circuits have reviewed laws banning abortion at 15 to 20 weeks, but the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has not yet reviewed such a case,” wrote the Journal. “Because there is no controlling decision from our Fifth Circuit, it is our duty to appeal this ruling,” the Journal quotes Hood as saying.
11/21/18: In March 2018, Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant signed a 15-week abortion ban into law. The ban, called the “Gestational Age Act,” would have stopped abortion in the state after 15 weeks, with exceptions for a medical emergency — including a woman’s life or a threat to one of her major bodily functions — or a severe fetal abnormality. Currently, Mississippi has a single abortion facility, and that facility took the state to court, challenging the abortion ban.
Today, U.S. District Court Judge Carlton W. Reeves put a permanent injunction on the law, calling it “a ban” and “not a regulation.” Mississippi has not hidden its desire to make abortion illegal and unthinkable in the state. Gov. Bryant told local news: “I hope at some point, Mississippi is free of abortion completely. And I hope it is before I leave office.”
According to Judge Reeves, the 15-week ban is unconstitutional, and not in line with U.S. Supreme Court precedent. But current precedent of Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey is out of step with modern civil rights and the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. Mississippi will now have a chance to appeal to a federal circuit court and continue to make the case that U.S. abortion law is barbaric, inhumane, and a violation of basic human dignity.
Mississippi’s law is not the first of its kind to be heard by federal judges, as a number of similar laws are making the rounds in court. A Kentucky ban on D&E abortions (which would include the majority of abortions committed between 13 and 24 weeks of pregnancy) is at trial. A Texas ban on D&E abortions is awaiting oral arguments in the 5th Circuit, after a Texas federal judge ruled against the law.
Legal observers believe any of these state laws could reach the U.S. Supreme Court and challenge current abortion precedent with modern science. The last time a case on a specific abortion procedure reached the nation’s highest court — in Gonzales v. Carhart — the law was upheld and the procedure ruled violent and barbaric. In Casey, the Supreme Court said that “viability” had to be the age marker for the state banning abortion in general, and while this would make the Mississippi law contrary to precedent, much has changed in law, modern medicine, and civil rights since 1992.
Former Justice Anthony Kennedy described D&E abortions (which would include almost every abortion Mississippi would be banning) by referencing the words of an abortionist, Leroy Carhart:
The fetus, in many cases, dies just as a human adult or child would: It bleeds to death as it is torn from limb from limb. The fetus can be alive at the beginning of the dismemberment process and can survive for a time while its limbs are being torn off.
Dr. Carhart agreed that “[w]hen you pull out a piece of the fetus, let’s say, an arm or a leg and remove that, at the time just prior to removal of the portion of the fetus, … the fetus [is] alive.” Dr. Carhart has observed fetal heartbeat via ultrasound with “extensive parts of the fetus removed,” and testified that mere dismemberment of a limb does not always cause death because he knows of a physician who removed the arm of a fetus only to have the fetus go on to be born “as a living child with one arm.” … In Dr. Carhart’s words, the abortionist is left with “a tray full of pieces.”
Many will watch with anticipation as the battle for full rights for all people — born and preborn — continues through the nation’s courts.