NEW ORLEANS (CN) – The Fifth Circuit on Thursday once again blocked Mississippi’s persistent efforts to usher in some of the nation’s most sweeping abortion restrictions, striking down a controversial ban on abortions once a fetal heartbeat has been detected – around six weeks of pregnancy.
The three-judge panel decision upholds U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves’ temporary block of the state’s ban last year. It comes just two months after the Fifth Circuit also ruled Mississippi cannot enforce a 2018 law barring abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy.
“All agree that cardiac activity can be detected well before the fetus is viable,” the appellate court wrote in the 3-page unsigned decision. “That dooms the law. If a ban on abortion after 15 weeks is unconstitutional, then it follows that a ban on abortion at an earlier stage of pregnancy is also unconstitutional.”
Mississippi is one of several states weighing stricter abortion measures after the Supreme Court retained a conservative majority last year. Abortion advocates worry that the Mississippi law, signed by Republican Gov. Phil Bryant last March, bans abortion before most women know they’re pregnant.
Jackson’s Women’s Health Organization, the state’s last remaining abortion clinic, sued Mississippi officials to block the set of laws that the group said were designed to cut off a woman’s constitutionally protected right to abortion care.
“This is now the second time in two months the Fifth Circuit has told Mississippi that it cannot ban abortion,” said Hillary Schneller, senior staff attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights, in a statement. “Despite the relentless attempts of Mississippi and other states, the right to legal abortion remains the law of the land.”
Thursday’s decision, a win for abortion advocates, is the first appellate court ruling handed down in challenges from laws passed in nine conservative-leaning states in 2019, including Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky Louisiana and Utah.
The Center for Reproductive Rights filed a motion Thursday in a challenge to Georgia’s 6-week abortion ban asking the court to block that measure from permanently taking effect.
The panel consisted of Circuit Judges Carolyn King, a Jimmy Carter appointee; Greg Costa, a Barack Obama appointee; and James Ho, a Donald Trump appointee.