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Part 4:

2018: Mississippi Legislature creates law to
ban abortions after 15 weeks gestation.
Law is overturned by a federal court.

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This topic is a continuation from Part 3

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2018-FEB to MAR: Mississippi House and Senate passed a bill to ban most abortions after 15 weeks gestation.

State Rep. Becky Currie, (R-MS) is the main sponsor of the bill HB 1510, the "Gestational Age Act." It would ban abortion of fetuses that are estimated to be over 15 weeks gestational age. The original version of bill was passed by the state House on 2018-FEB-02 with a vote of 79 to 31 -- a 72% majority! The state Senate amended the bill and passed it on 2018-MAR-08 with a vote of 75 to 34 -- a 69% majority. It was then returned to the House for a final vote.

Dr. Jameson Taylor, acting president of the Mississippi Center for Public Policy, said:

"The rest of the civilized world understands the severe health risks entailed by late-term abortions that occur after the first trimester. ... This is a commonsense approach to protecting maternal health and protecting the life of the unborn. ... HB 1510 is supported by faith-based and pro-life organizations across the state. ... Recent polling (January 2018) indicates the vast majority (76%) of voters support most abortion restrictions. A law that prohibits abortion after the first trimester is one of the public's preferred options." 1

Pregnancy is usually measured in weeks from the woman's last menstrual period (LMP). The first trimester concludes at the end of the 12th week. 20 weeks is the half-way point through the second trimester. 2 House Judiciary B Committee Chairperson Andy Gipson (R) said:

"By 15 weeks, you have a child in the womb who has a heartbeat, who for all practical purposes has taken on the form of a person."

However, researchers have generally concluded that fetuses' higher brain functions first turn on only about the 24th week gestation. At that time, the fetus will become sentient and able to sense their environment, pain, etc. Many people believe that this is when human personhood begins. On the other hand, many religious conservatives sincerely believe that personhood occurs earlier. Many believe that personhood is attained at conception when an ovum is fertilized, and a one-cell zygote is produced.

Viability is a moving target. It is now generally regarded as being attained at about 23 weeks gestation when newborns typically have a 39% chance of survival if born in world-class facilities. However, with advances in medical science, this age is being gradually reduced. James Elgin Gill is one of the youngest human fetus to survive. He was born in Ottawa, Canada during 1988 at the gestational age of 21 weeks and 5 days. He is now healthy and in college. 3

If and when artificial wombs are developed for human fetuses, then viability could occur much earlier in pregnancy. However a current ban on abortions at 15 weeks and later appears to violate past Supreme Court rulings, including Roe v. Wade, and was thus very likely to be declared unconstitutional by the courts.

Professor of law, David Forte, Cleveland State University in Ohio said that the Mississippi measure:

"... seems like a pretty simple bill designed to test the viability line that the Supreme Court has drawn."

Katherine Klein, the equality advocacy coordinator for the American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi, said:

"The 15-week marker has no bearing in science. It's just completely unfounded and a court has never upheld anything under the 20-week viability marker. ... We expect that this bill will be challenged in court and it will lose and, in the process, Mississippi will lose thousands upon thousands of taxpayer dollars [in legal costs]."

Jameson Taylor, acting president of the anti-abortion group Mississippi Center for Public Policy, said:

"We're thrilled that Mississippi lawmakers are taking a step to protect the basic right to life [of fetuses], as well as protecting maternal health." 4

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2018-MAR-19: Mississippi's Gestational Age Act (HB 1510) becomes law:

The House passed the final version of the bill by a vote of 80 to 31 on FEB-02. The Senate passed it 35 to 14 on MAR-06. Gov. Phil Bryant (R) signed the bill into law on MAR-19. This made Mississippi the only state to have a date restriction on almost all abortions that are this early: 15 weeks, or less that 3.5 months. Exceptions to the law will be permitted only in cases of "medical emergency." That is defined as a physical complication threatening the woman’s life or "substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function;" or "severe fetal abnormality." The latter is defined as a physical condition that renders the pre born baby "incompatible with life outside the womb."

The law does not make exceptions for rape or incest.

The Governor commented that the law will help bring Mississippi closer to his goal of making the state:

"... the safest place in America for an unborn child."

The Guttmacher Institute, notes that 17 states ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, but none of them had banned abortions any earlier in pregnancy until now.

However, the law conflicts with the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Roe v. Wade, which requires states to allow abortion much later in pregnancy. Diane Derzis, owner of the Women’s Health Organization -- the only abortion facility in the state -- said:

"We will be planning to sue." 5

She followed through with her threat, by filing a lawsuit within an hour of the Governor's signing the bill. The lawsuit states, in part:

"Under decades of United States Supreme Court precedent, the state of Mississippi cannot ban abortion prior to viability, regardless of what exceptions are provided to the ban."

It also says that the organization performed 78 abortions after 15 weeks during 2017. This was about 3% of Mississippi’s total number of abortions during that year.

Less than 24 hours after the Governor signed the bill into law, U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves granted a temporary injunction against implementation of the law. He said that the law "draws the line" after which abortions are restricted too early in pregnancy. Women are permitted to choose to have an:

"... abortion before viability. ... States cannot 'prohibit any woman from making the ultimate decision' to do so." 6

This case is expected to be appealed all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. With the present court makeup, the Court would most likely declare the law unconstitutional by a 5 to 4 majority. However, Justice Anthony Kennedy, who has generally ruled pro-choice on abortion cases, retired in mid-2018. President Trump appointed Brett Michael Kavanaugh, a very conservative judge, in Justice Kennedy's place. This will probably swing the Court's votes to 5:4 in favor of restricting abortion access, as well as possibly terminating equal rights for lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender persons, etc.

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2018-NOV-20: Federal Court declares Mississippi's Gestational Age Act (HB 1510) to be unconstitutional:

Eight months after HB 1510 was signed into law by Governor Phil Bryant (R), U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves declared the law unconstitutional. 7

Opheli Garcia Lawler, writing for The Cut, said that the law was:

"... one of the most restrictive in the country, and women’s health activists across the country opposed it."

Mississippi's only abortion clinic joined with the Center for Reproductive Rights and filed a lawsuit against the law.

In his ruling, Judge Reeves pulled no punches. He said:

"The record is clear: States may not ban abortions prior to viability. ..."

"[The state of Mississippi insists that the 15-week ban] was passed in furtherance of the State’s legitimate interest in protecting the health of women, ... the Court concludes that the Mississippi Legislature’s professed interest in ‘women’s health’ is pure gaslighting."

“[Mississippi' ranks as the state with the most [medical] challenges for women, infants, and children but is silent on expanding Medicaid. ... Its 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. ..."

"The real reason we are here is simple. 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. ..."

"The fact that men, myself included, are determining how women may choose to manage their reproductive health is a sad irony not lost on the Court. As Sarah Weddington argued to the nine men on the Supreme Court in 1971 when representing ‘Jane Roe,’ ‘a pregnancy to a woman is perhaps one of the most determinative aspects of her life.’ As a man, who cannot get pregnant or seek an abortion, I can only imagine the anxiety and turmoil a woman might experience when she decides whether to terminate her pregnancy through an abortion. Respecting her autonomy demands that this statute be enjoined."

Nancy Northup, CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights issued a statement saying:

"Our victory today means that women in Mississippi will maintain the ability to make their own decisions about whether and when to terminate a pregnancy. Today’s decision should be a wake-up call for state lawmakers who are continuously trying to chip away at abortion access. Such bans will not stand in a court of law. 7

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This topic continues in Part 5

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
  1. Claire Chretien, "BREAKING: Mississippi state house votes to ban abortion after 15 weeks," Life site News, 2018-FEB-02, at: https://www.lifesitenews.com/
  2. "Roe v. Wade," Wex Legal Dictionary, Legal Information Institute, undated, at: https://www.law.cornell.edu/
  3. Cheryl Bird, "World's Smallest and Youngest Preemies," Very Well web site, 2018-JAN-04, at: https://www.verywell.com/
  4. Jeff Amy & Sarah Mearhoff, "Mississippi close to having most-restrictive abortion law," Associated Press. Article no longer available online.
  5. Bill Bryant, "Mississippi enacts strongest pro-life law in the country," Life Site News, 2018-MAR-19, at: https://www.lifesitenews.com/
  6. Calvin Freiburger, "Judge temporarily blocks Mississippi law banning abortion at 15 weeks," Life Site News, 2018-MAR-20, at: https://www.lifesitenews.com/
  7. Opheli Garcia Lawler, "Judge Strikes Down Mississippi’s Awful Abortion Ban, Calls It ‘Pure Gaslighting’," TheCut, 2018-NOV-20, at: https://www.thecut.com/

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Author: B.A. Robinson
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Copyright © 2018 to 2019 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
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Last updated 2019-MAY-28
Author: B.A. Robinson
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