Mississippi Abortion Laws Challenged in Federal Court

JACKSON, Miss. (CN) – The Center for Reproductive Rights sued Mississippi officials Monday to block a new set of laws the group says are designed to cut off a woman’s constitutionally protected right to abortion care.

The lawsuit was filed in Jackson federal court on behalf of Jackson Women’s Health Organization, and its abortion provider Dr. Sacheen Carr-Ellis. It claims Mississippi has mounted a 25-year legislative campaign to dodge U.S. Supreme Court precedent “by passing a series of targeted laws and regulations designed to choke off access to abortion in the state.”

The group’s challenge comes three weeks after Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant, a Republican, signed the nation’s most restrictive abortion bill into law, which in part outlaws abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

House Bill 1510 does not allow exceptions in cases of rape or incest.  It does offer exclusions if the woman’s life or a “major bodily function” is threatened, or if the fetus has a health problem and no chance of survival outside the womb.

“There is no question that the 15 week ban is unconstitutional under Supreme Court precedent,” according to Monday’s lawsuit filed by lead attorney Hillary Schneller of the Center for Reproductive Rights.

The complaint continues, “These laws and regulations lack any legitimate justification, medical or otherwise, and, individually and collectively, have the purpose or effect of placing substantial obstacles in the way of women seeking abortion care in Mississippi.”

U.S. District Judge Carlton W. Reeves temporarily blocked the laws from going into effect until April 13.

“We are saving more of the unborn than any state in America,” Governor Bryant said as he signed the bill into law March 19. “And we’ll probably be sued here in about a half hour…and that will be fine with me, it’s worth fighting over.”

According to the lawsuit, Jackson Women’s Health Organization has remained the state’s only abortion clinic since 2004, and 91 percent of women in the state live in a county without a provider. The number of abortions annually in Mississippi has dropped by almost two-thirds from 1991 to 2014, the lawsuit claims.

“Mississippi’s regulations have nothing to do with women’s health, and everything to do with shaming women and blocking access to abortion care,” Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement. “We’re taking Mississippi and other states to court to protect abortion access and make it clear to anti-choice politicians across the U.S. that they are not above the law – and that in a court of law, facts, evidence and the Constitution still matter.”

In addition to the 15-week ban, the lawsuit also challenges the requirement that a woman make two separate trips to and from the clinic before she can obtain an abortion, the telemedicine ban applying only to abortion providers, and a condition calling for a 24-hour mandatory delay between appointment and procedure.

The Supreme Court’s 2016 ruling in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt declared a set of Texas laws similar to Mississippi’s unconstitutional. The nation’s highest court found the burdens the challenged provisions imposed on abortion access outweighed the benefits.

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