JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — A federal appeals court said Friday that Mississippi’s ban on abortion at 15 weeks is unconstitutional.
The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves ruled correctly when he blocked the state law from taking effect in 2018.
The only abortion clinic in Mississippi sued the state after Republican Gov. Phil Bryant signed the law.
“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 law at issue is a ban. Thus, we affirm the district court´s invalidation of the law.”
Mississippi legislators came back in 2019 and passed a more restrictive law to ban most abortions at about six weeks. The same federal district judge blocked that, too, and a legal fight over it continues.
The 5th Circuit based in New Orleans handles cases from Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas. It is generally considered one of the most conservative federal appellate courts.
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 U.S. Supreme Court ruling about the “ultimate decision” to terminate a pregnancy.