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Unconstitutional! Mississippi's 15-week abortion law shot down by US appeals court

Published:Saturday | December 14, 2019 | 9:59 AM
In this October 2, 2019 file photo, an abortion opponent sings to herself outside an abortion clinic in Jackson, Mississippi. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

JACKSON, Mississippi (AP) — A ban by the state of Mississippi on abortions after 15 weeks has been declared unconstitutional by a federal appeals court.

The ruling by the 5th United States (US) Circuit Court of Appeals deals a major blow to those seeking to overturn Roe v Wade, the landmark ruling by the Supreme Court that legalised abortions in the US.

With the addition of conservative judges to the US Supreme Court in recent years, several states have been enacting laws aimed at spurring court challenges that could eventually seek to overturn Roe v Wade.

But the appeals court found that US District Judge Carlton Reeves ruled correctly when he blocked the Mississippi law from taking effect in 2018.

“In an unbroken line dating to Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court’s abortion cases have established (and affirmed, and re-affirmed) a woman’s right to choose an abortion before viability,” the appeals court judges wrote.

“States may regulate abortion procedures prior to viability so long as they do not impose an undue burden on the woman’s right but they may not ban abortions.”

The sole abortion clinic in Mississippi sued the state after Republican Governor Phil Bryant signed the law.

The clinic said it provides abortions up to 16 weeks.

Mississippi legislators came back in 2019 and passed a more restrictive law to ban most abortions at about six weeks.

That law was also blocked by Reeves and a legal fight over it is still ongoing.

Attorneys representing the state of Mississippi had argued that the 15-week law was a regulation but not a ban, and that states are allowed to regulate abortion.

A central question in the case is about viability — whether a fetus can survive outside the woman at 15 weeks.

The clinic presented evidence that viability is impossible at 15 weeks, and the appeals court said that the state “conceded that it had identified no medical evidence that a fetus would be viable at 15 weeks.”

“If the Act is a regulation, then the State’s interests should have been considered,” the appeals court wrote.

“Prohibitions on pre-viability abortions, however, are unconstitutional regardless of the State’s interests because ‘a State may not prohibit any woman from making the ultimate decision to terminate her pregnancy before viability.’”

The appeals court was quoting a US Supreme Court ruling about the “ultimate decision” to terminate a pregnancy.

When Reeves ruled in November 2018 that the Mississippi law was unconstitutional, he wrote that the “established medical consensus” is that viability typically begins at 23 to 24 weeks after the pregnant woman’s last menstrual period.

The Mississippi law would allow exceptions to the 15-week ban in cases of medical emergency or severe fetal abnormality.

Doctors found in violation of the ban would face mandatory suspension or revocation of their medical license.

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