A federal judge has blocked a Mississippi law that would have imposed one of the nation’s strictest bans on abortion by outlawing the procedure after six weeks of pregnancy — before many women know they’re pregnant.
U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves ruled on Friday that the ban, set to become law on July 1, won’t take effect while the lawsuit against it proceeds. Reeves’s decision is similar to his 2018 ruling that declared a 15-week ban unconstitutional.
“Here we go again,” the judge’s pointed order began. “Mississippi has passed another law banning abortions prior to viability. ... The parties have been here before. Last spring, plaintiffs successfully challenged Mississippi’s ban on abortion after 15 weeks. The Court ruled that the law was unconstitutional and permanently enjoined its enforcement. The State responded by passing an even more restrictive bill.”
As Reeves weighed arguments in the case on Tuesday, he criticized the state’s lawmakers for doubling down on further restrictions.
“It sure smacks of defiance to this court,” Reeves said.
The legislation, also known as a “heartbeat bill,” prohibits abortions after an ultrasound can detect electric activity from what will become a fetus’ heart, a milestone that could come just six weeks into a pregnancy. The bill sped through the statehouse, and Gov. Phil Bryant (R) signed it in March.
It is now the second six-week ban to be passed and blocked this year. In March, a federal judge in Kentucky halted a similar six-week measure, questioning the law’s constitutionality.
In a statement, Bryant said he was disappointed with the decision and indicated he would direct his attorney general to review it.
“As Governor I’ve pledged to do all I can to protect life,” he wrote. “Time and time again the Legislature and I have done just that.”
Mississippi’s law is part of a nationwide barrage of restrictions, pushed for by religious conservatives and meant to convince the Supreme Court to reconsider its ruling in Roe v. Wade. In most cases, the goal is not a law’s immediate implementation, but the legal challenges and appeals that could pave a path to the high court and its conservative majority.
“The sponsors of Mississippi’s six-week ban, like those of other extreme bans across the country, are shamelessly seeking to overturn Roe v. Wade,” said Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, which filed the lawsuit. “We will block them at every turn. The Constitution protects a woman’s right to make decisions over her body and her life. The district court’s decision today was a resounding affirmation of this settled law.”
Shannon Brewer, the director of Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the state’s only abortion clinic, stressed in a statement that the ruling means the clinic’s doors are still open.
"Abortion is still legal in our state,” she said.
And none of the other bans has taken effect, either — though each has faced vigorous legal push back from abortion rights groups.
In Alabama, where Gov. Kay Ivey (R) signed the country’s most restrictive abortion ban yet, effectively outlawing the procedure, the American Civil Liberties Union sued the state. The law would criminalize abortion in almost all circumstances — including cases of rape and incest — and punish doctors with up to 99 years in prison.
The state representative who sponsored Alabama’s bill seemed to welcome the fight.
“The lawsuit is simply the first battle in what we hope will ultimately be a victorious effort to overturn Roe and protect unborn babies from harm,” said state Rep. Terri Collins, a Republican from Decatur.
Statehouses across the country are fighting their own battles, as fresh abortion bans are churning through legislatures from South Carolina to Louisiana, dividing the country as they go.