Reproductive Rights

Federal Court Strikes Down “Fetal Heartbeat” Abortion Ban in Mississippi

On Thursday, a three-judge panel of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals blocked a Mississippi law that would ban abortions after a “fetal heartbeat,” is detected—as early as six weeks into a pregnancy. This standard contests Roe v. Wade’s national legalization of abortion prior to viability—usually around 24 weeks into pregnancy.

Jackson Women’s Health Organization advocated for the Mississippi law to be blocked, arguing that six weeks is often not enough time for patients to discover they are pregnant, let alone schedule a doctor’s visit and/or save money to pay for the procedure.

The law is one of many “fetal heartbeat” bills passed in Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, and Ohio since President Trump’s election. Anti-choice organizations and policymakers aim for these bills and subsequent blocks to provide a legal challenge to Roe v. Wade in the Supreme Court.

Notably, this is the first of the group to be blocked at the appeals court level. The decision upheld a lower court’s decision from May 2019, in which a judge identified the “fetal heartbeat” abortion ban as a threat to women’s rights and, specifically, “a woman’s free choice, which is central to personal dignity and autonomy.”

Furthermore, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals cited as precedent the 2018 decision by another panel to block Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban, arguing that a block on abortions prior to a longer gestation period justified a block on those prior to a six-week gestation period.

CNN, 2/20/20; The Hill, 2/20/20; CBS News, 2/20/20; NY Times, 5/24/19

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