Judge grants temporary order to block strictest abortion ban in U.S.
On Monday, Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant signed a new bill into law that prohibits abortion after 15 weeks, making Mississippi the strictest state in the country for women who want to terminate unwanted pregnancies. The only abortion clinic in the state immediately filed a complaint in federal court to block the law, arguing that the legislation violates Supreme Court precedents prohibiting abortion bans prior to viability. Just before noon today, U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves granted the temporary restraining order requested by the clinic.
Under the Gestational Age Act, which was passed by the Mississippi House on March 8, physicians who “intentionally or knowingly” violate the law are subject to severe professional and civil penalties, including losing their license. The only exceptions to the ban are if a pregnant person is experiencing a medical emergency or if there is a severe fetal abnormality. Survivors of rape and incest who do not terminate in the first four months must carry the pregnancy to term.
“All women deserve access to safe and legal abortion care, no matter their zip code,” said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, in a statement. “Yet Mississippi politicians have shown once again that they will stop at nothing to deny women this fundamental right, targeting the state’s last remaining clinic in defiance of the U.S. Supreme Court and decades of settled precedent.”
Even before Monday, Mississippi had some of the restrictive abortion laws in the country, according to the Guttmacher Institute. Like North Carolina, the state previously prohibited abortion after 20 weeks, counted by the first day of the women’s last menstrual period rather than the estimated date of conception, as in many other states with 20-week limits.
The Center for Reproductive Rights has successfully challenged laws seeking to ban pre-viability abortions in at least three other states, Arizona, North Dakota, and Arkansas. Yet while the latest legislation in Mississippi may not stand up in court, say advocates, existing restrictions on abortion already provide a de facto barrier to the right to choose. With only one abortion provider in the state, many women lack the time or funds to access the health care they need. The state also mandates a 24-hour waiting period before a pregnant individual can terminate their pregnancy, thus requiring them to take two trips to the facility.
While abortions are generally more readily available to women in the global North than in the global South, access varies widely from country to country, including within the European Union. Of the countries in Europe that permit abortions upon request, the average time limit specified is 12 weeks, reported the France-based news site EuroNews in January. In Ireland, abortion is effectively prohibited under the constitution, but the country is scheduled to hold a referendum on the matter by the end of May. If a majority approves a repeal of the constitutional provision, the government will introduce legislation permitting unrestricted abortion during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.
The owner of Mississippi’s lone abortion clinic, Diane Dervis, told The New York Times that a young woman whose pregnancy was beyond the 15-week limit was scheduled to have an abortion the following day. “She [was] the first casualty of this bill,” Ms. Derzis said. “That’s the saddest thing of all. We’re not talking about an issue here. We’re talking about people. This is a decision she made to better her life, and we’ve totally interfered with that.”
And now that the law is again on her side—temporarily—it remains to be seen whether she'll be able to carry out her decision after all.
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