Mississippi Ban on Abortion After 15 Weeks of Pregnancy Struck Down by Federal District Court

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State ban is found unconstitutional in a victory for the Center for Reproductive Rights and Jackson Women’s Health Organization
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(PRESS RELEASE) Today, a federal court in Mississippi permanently blocked the state’s unconstitutional ban on abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy. The law was temporarily blocked in March following an emergency filing by the Center for Reproductive Rights on behalf of Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the last remaining abortion clinic in the state.

In today’s decision, District Judge Carlton W. Reeves wrote that “Mississippi’s law violates Supreme Court precedent, and in doing so it disregards the Fourteenth Amendment guarantee of autonomy for women desiring to control their own reproductive health.” This decision recognizes what courts have repeatedly found: Mississippi’s 15-week ban violates longstanding Supreme Court precedent, established in Roe more than 45 years ago and reaffirmed in 2016 in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, that a state cannot deny women the ultimate decision to terminate a pregnancy prior to viability. As a result of that clear law, courts have consistently struck down similar bans on abortion before viability as unconstitutional, including in Arkansas.

"Our victory today means that women in Mississippi will maintain the ability to make their own decisions about whether and when to terminate a pregnancy,” said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights. “Today’s decision should be a wake-up call for state lawmakers who are continuously trying to chip away at abortion access. Such bans will not stand in a court of law."

Also as a result of today’s decision, a nearly identical 15-week ban passed in Louisiana in May will not go into effect, as that law’s effective date depends on the outcome of the lawsuit challenging Mississippi’s 15-week ban.

In April, Jackson Women’s Health Organization built on and expanded its lawsuit against the 15-week ban to challenge a regime of Mississippi laws and regulations that have created unconstitutional barriers to the right to access safe, legal abortion. The lawsuit challenges legal restrictions in Mississippi that place burdens on women seeking abortion services, including laws that demean, delay and misinform women, as well as a series of Targeted Regulations of Abortion Providers (TRAP) laws and regulations. As Mississippi has enacted this legal regime over the last two-and-a-half decades, all but one of the state’s abortion clinics have closed.

The challenge to Mississippi’s 15-week ban was filed by Hillary Schneller, Julie Rikelman, Leah Wiederhorn, and Christine Parker of the Center for Reproductive Rights; Aaron Delaney, Caitlin Grusauskas, Alexia Korberg, Crystal Johnson, Roberto Gonzalez, and Claudia Hammerman of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP; civil rights attorney Robert B. McDuff in Jackson, Mississippi, and the Mississippi Center for Justice on behalf of Jackson Women’s Health Organization and Sacheen Carr-Ellis, M.D., M.P.H., the clinic’s medical director.

The full decision is available here.

About the Center for Reproductive Rights in Mississippi

In 2012, the Center for Reproductive Rights, together with Paul, Weiss and Robert B. McDuff, filed a legal challenge to the state’s admitting privileges requirement on behalf of Jackson Women’s Health Organization—the last remaining abortion clinic in Mississippi—and Dr. Willie Parker.  A federal district court partially blocked the admitting privileges requirement in July 2012 and later fully blocked the measure in April 2013—barring the state from enforcing it pending the outcome of the litigation.  A three-judge panel of the Fifth Circuit heard arguments on the district court’s preliminary injunction of the admitting privileges requirement in April 2014 and upheld the injunction blocking the law in July 2014.  In November 2014 the Fifth Circuit refused to reconsider its decision to continue to block the law; in February 2015, the state of Mississippi requested that the U.S. Supreme Court review the Fifth Circuit’s ruling.  Over a year and a half later—and one day after ruling that Texas’s clinic shutdown law was unconstitutional—the Supreme Court refused to review the measure, ensuring the last clinic in the state could remain open while the legal challenge continued.  Despite the ruling in Whole Woman’s Health, Mississippi continued to defend its admitting privileges requirement until March 2017 when the Center and its co-counsel won a permanent injunction against the law.