Mississippi Six-Week Abortion Ban Challenged in Court

Center for Reproductive Rights asks judge to block Mississippi’s new law criminalizing abortion after just six weeks of pregnancy

(PRESS RELEASE) Today, the Center for Reproductive Rights expanded their current lawsuit in Mississippi, adding a challenge to the state’s six-week ban signed into law last week. The Center is asking a federal court to block the law before it takes effect on July 1, criminalizing abortion once a heartbeat has been detected—around six weeks of pregnancy. The law passed the Mississippi legislature with votes from 99 male legislators and only 11 women. This ban is even more restrictive than Mississippi’s 15-week ban, which a federal district court struck down just months ago.

“Let’s call this law what it is—a near total ban on abortion,” said Nancy Northup, President & CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights. “Many women don’t even know they’re pregnant at six weeks, and this law would force them to carry their pregnancies to term. Just four months ago, a federal judge told Mississippi they cannot ban abortion after 15 weeks, and now they’ve banned it even earlier. We will keep taking them to court until they get the message.”

“Six weeks of pregnancy is just two weeks after the average woman misses her period.” said Shannon Brewer, director of Jackson Women’s Health Organization—the only abortion clinic left in Mississippi. “Nearly all of the patients we provide abortion care for are past 6 weeks pregnant. Many have spent weeks saving up the money for an abortion and have traveled hundreds of miles to get to our clinic. If this law takes effect, those women won’t have a chance.”

“Once again, the mostly male Mississippi Legislature is trying to make decisions for Mississippi’s women about matters of childbirth,” said attorney Rob McDuff of Jackson, who is co-counseling the case on behalf of the Mississippi Center for Justice.  “Like other legislative efforts before it, this new law is both unfair and unconstitutional.” 

In November, a federal district court in Mississippi struck down the state’s 15-week ban, determining that it “unequivocally” violated the Fourteenth Amendment guarantee of reproductive autonomy. In that decision, the court described the 15-week ban as “closer to the old Mississippi—the Mississippi bent on controlling women and minorities” and described the state’s “professed interest in women’s health” as “gaslighting.” The state continues to defend the 15-week ban on appeal.

In addition to Mississippi, three other states have passed six-week bans—Kentucky (2019); Iowa (2018); and North Dakota (2013)—but all have been blocked by the courts. The Supreme Court recognized in Roe v. Wade and reaffirmed just two years ago that states cannot deny women the ultimate decision to terminate a pregnancy prior to viability. 

Mississippi women already face a mountain of barriers to abortion, many of which the Center is also challenging. For example, women must receive biased counseling designed to deter them from having an abortion and must then wait 24 hours before returning to the clinic to obtain an abortion. Minors must get consent from both of their parents, or obtain a judicial bypass, before accessing abortion care. Doctors cannot use telemedicine to prescribe pills for medication abortion. Furthermore, the state’s Medicaid program does not cover abortion care, and state healthcare plans offered under the Affordable Care Act only cover abortion if the woman’s life is endangered, or in cases of rape or incest. The state also has a “trigger ban,” which would ban abortion immediately if Roe v. Wade is overturned.

This case was filed by Hillary Schneller, Julie Rikelman, Leah Wiederhorn, and Christine Parker with the Center for Reproductive Rights, along with the Mississippi Center for Justice, Rob McDuff, and the law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP serving as co-counsel.

The preliminary injunction brief is available here: https://bit.ly/2FylbEj

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MEDIA CONTACT: Kelly Krause; kkrause@reprorights.org; 585-919-9966