On Tuesday a federal judge temporarily blocked a new Mississippi law banning abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy, the most restrictive abortion law in the country.
The suit was filed by the Center for Reproductive Rights on behalf of the Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the only abortion clinic in the state of Mississippi. At the time the lawsuit was filed, 3 women were scheduled for abortions at 15 weeks.
The judge stopped the law from going into effect the day after it passed, writing “The Supreme Court says every woman has a constitutional right to ‘personal privacy’ regarding her body.” The 15 week deadline falls before the medical consensus over when a fetus becomes viable outside the womb, the parameter set in Roe v. Wade. Federal courts have already ruled that bans before viability, around 24 weeks, are unconstitutional.
State Senator Deborah Dawkins (D-Pass Christian) tried to add on four amendments to the abortion ban bill: one requiring the state to pay for childcare for any woman who opts out of an abortion between 12-15 weeks gestation, one providing that woman with the same health insurance that Mississippi lawmakers enjoy, one providing that health insurance to her child, and one covering state college tuition for that child. All of the amendments were thrown out.
Women’s rights advocates believe lawmakers intend for the bill to wind its way through the court system and potentially serve as a Constitutional challenge to Roe, thanks to a Supreme Court that right-wing politicians intend to stack with anti-abortion justices like Neil Gorsuch.
“In Mississippi we have no money for roads and bridges, we have no money for Medicaid, we have no money for schools,” said Felicia Brown-Williams, Mississippi state director for Planned Parenthood Southeast. “The fact that legislators are choosing very intentionally to focus on this issue…that will suck up state resources is irresponsible and unconscionable.”
Mississippi, along with 17 other states, already bans abortion after 20 weeks. Women in Mississippi are forced to travel up to six hours roundtrip just to access an abortion. And because the state requires a 24 hour waiting period, the trip often has to be made twice.
“This (law) will absolutely disproportionately impact low-income women and women of color,” said Brown-Williams. She continued, “Women with financial means will always have access to abortion. They’ll be able to travel to another place to receive services.”
A federal 20-week abortion ban recently passed the U.S. House of Representatives but failed in the U.S. Senate where it required 60 votes to pass. The bill was based on the false idea that a fetus can feel pain at 20 weeks. This argument has been refuted by the vast majority of medical professionals, with the American Congress of Obstetrics and Gynecologists finding that a fetus’s capacity for pain “does not develop until the third trimester at the earliest, well past the period between 20 weeks and viability.”
The overwhelming majority of abortion take place prior to the 20 week mark, and those who seek out abortion later in pregnancy often do so for very complicated and personal reasons, including severe fetal anomalies, most of which can’t be detected prior to the 20 week mark.
Media Resources: Reuters 3/20/18; Rewire 3/21/18