Federal judge blocks Mississipi 15-week abortion ban legislation

Federal judge blocks Mississipi 15-week abortion ban legislation

The US District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi [official website] on Tuesday granted a temporary restraining order blocking Mississippi’s HB 1510 [text, PDF], enacted only one day earlier, that prohibits abortion after the 15-week gestation period.

Termed the most restrictive abortion legislation in the US, the law calculates the gestation period from the first day of the woman’s last menstrual period. The law imposes civil penalties and professional sanctions on physicians who perform abortions post the 15-week period with the only exceptions being granted for medical emergencies and cases of severe fetal abnormality that would not allow for life outside the womb. These exceptions do not include rape or incest.

The bill was signed by Governor Phil Bryant [official website] on Monday, which prompted the plaintiffs Jackson Women’s Health Organization [advocacy website], medical doctor Sacheen Carr-Ellis and others to file suit [JURIST report] requesting a declaratory judgment that HB 1510 (the Act) is unconstitutional. The plaintiffs additionally requested a preliminary and permanent injunction and a temporary restraining order prohibiting the state from enforcing the Act’s penalty provisions.

Judge Carlton Reeves laid down the standard that needs to be met by the plaintiffs to successfully obtain a restraining order: Plaintiffs must clearly demonstrate 1) a substantial likelihood of success on the merits; 2) a substantial threat of irreparable injury if the temporary restraining order is denied; 3) that the threatened injury outweighs any damage that the temporary restraining order might cause the [State]; and (4) that the temporary restraining order will not disserve the public interest.

The court concluded that plaintiffs met the above-mentioned standard and that they are substantially likely to
succeed on their claim that the Act is unconstitutional:

The Supreme Court says every woman has a constitutional right to “personal privacy” regarding her body. That right protects her choice “to have an abortion before viability.” States cannot “prohibit any woman from making the ultimate decision” to do so. … Jackson Women’ Health Organization consists of the only doctors who perform abortions in Mississippi. Those doctors — in reliance on the medical consensus about viability — perform abortions after the 15-week mark. … The law threatens immediate, irreparable harm to Mississippians’ abilities to control their “destiny and … body.” This is especially true for one woman scheduled to have a 15-week abortion this afternoon. A brief delay in enforcing a law of dubious constitutionality does not outweigh that harm, and in fact serves the public’s interest in preserving the freedom guaranteed by the United States Constitution.

Granting the restraining order, the court further ordered the state and its officers, agents, servants, employees and attorneys, and any other person in active concert or participation with them to not enforce the Act for 10 days. The court stated that it will accept expedited briefs on the question of whether it should issue a preliminary injunction and whether that relief should be consolidated with a trial on the merits.