Judge Blocks Mississippi's 'Unconstitutional' Ban On Abortions After 15 Weeks

In a blistering opinion, Judge Carlton W. Reeves struck down one of the country's most restrictive abortion laws.

A federal judge has struck down a Mississippi law that sought to ban most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. In a fiery opinion issued Tuesday, Judge Carlton W. Reeves said the statute, described as one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country, “unequivocally” violated women’s constitutional rights.

Reeves wrote of his “frustration” that state lawmakers had chosen to pass the law despite the fact that similar legislation has been thrown out by federal courts in other states and that such litigation is very costly for taxpayers.

He contended the “real reason” for the ban’s passage appeared to be the state’s politically driven desire to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 law that assures a woman’s constitutional right to access safe and legal abortions. 

“The state chose to pass a law it knew was unconstitutional to endorse a decades-long campaign, fueled by national interest groups, to ask the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade,” Reeves wrote. “This court follows the commands of the Supreme Court and the dictates of the United States Constitution, rather than the disingenuous calculations of the Mississippi Legislature.”

The law, which banned abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy except in cases of medical emergency or “severe fetal abnormality,” was passed in March. Mississippi’s only abortion clinic, Jackson Women’s Health Organization, filed a lawsuit challenging the ban on the same day, and Reeves put a temporary restraining order on the law the following morning. 

Under Supreme Court precedent, states cannot restrict abortions before a fetus is considered viable. According to established medical consensus, viability typically begins at 23 to 24 weeks, Reeves noted in his opinion this week. 

The judge acknowledged, however, that, “with the recent changes in the membership of the Supreme Court” ― an apparent reference to the additions of conservative Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch ― the future of the nation’s abortion laws has been cast into doubt.

“Time will tell. If overturning Roe is [Mississippi’s] desired result, the state will have to seek that relief from a higher court. For now, the United States Supreme Court has spoken,” Reeves wrote. 

Abortion rights supporter and clinic escort Michelle Colon stands outside the Jackson Women's Health Organization, Mississipp
Abortion rights supporter and clinic escort Michelle Colon stands outside the Jackson Women's Health Organization, Mississippi's last abortion clinic.

In a blistering footnote, Reeves ― who noted the “sad irony” of men deciding on women’s reproductive rights ― lambasted Mississippi lawmakers for citing a concern for women’s health as a reason for the abortion ban.

“The Mississippi Legislature’s professed interest in ‘women’s health’ is pure gaslighting,” the judge wrote, noting that Mississippi “ranks as the state with the most [medical] challenges for women, infants and children” and yet is “silent on expanding Medicaid.”

″[The state’s] leaders are proud to challenge Roe but choose not to lift a finger to address the tragedies lurking on the other side of the delivery room: our alarming infant and maternal mortality rates,” he added.

As Reuters noted, Reeves’ ruling this week effectively overturns a nearly identical 15-week ban passed in Louisiana in May, which would have taken effect only if the Mississippi law survived the legal challenge. 

The ruling has been hailed by reproductive rights advocates as a “wake-up call” to lawmakers who are pushing restrictive abortion bans in their own states. 

“Today’s decision should be a wake-up call for state lawmakers who are continuously trying to chip away at abortion access,” Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, which represented the Jackson Women’s Health Organization in the suit, said in a statement.