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Federal Judge Overturns Mississippi Abortion Ban That State 'Knew Was Unconstitutional'

By Christopher Coble, Esq. on November 23, 2018 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

"So, why are we here?" asked U.S. District Judge Carlton W. Reeves, rhetorically. "Because the State of Mississippi contends that every court who ruled on a case such as this 'misinterpreted or misapplied prior Supreme Court abortion precedent.'"

Judge Reeves did not share that same legal perspective, and instead overturned, in no uncertain terms, a statewide ban on abortions after 15 weeks of gestation. "No, the real reason we are here is simple," Reeves wrote. "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 Supreme Court Has Spoken

Reeves, who had already blocked the restrictions with a temporary injunction in April, considered the matter settled by the Supreme Court and federal circuit courts, and was not shy about making his feelings known: "The Court's frustration, in part, is that other states have already unsuccessfully litigated the same sort of ban that is before this Court and the State is aware that this type of litigation costs the taxpayers a tremendous amount of money."

Specifically, the Eighth Circuit and Fifth Circuit reviewed similar abortion bans and determined that states "may not prohibit any woman from making the ultimate decision to terminate her pregnancy before viability." Additionally, Supreme Court precedent (at least under previous compositions) was clear. "With the recent changes in the membership of the Supreme Court," Reeves noted, "it may be that the State believes divine providence covered the Capitol when it passed this legislation. Time will tell. If overturning Roe is the State's desired result, the State will have to seek that relief from a higher court. For now, the United States Supreme Court has spoken."

Old Mississippi

The court was also not persuaded by the State of Mississippi's argument that the abortion restrictions were passed in the best interests of its residents, and saved some of its pointed criticism for a footnote addressed that argument:

[T]his Court concludes that the Mississippi Legislature's professed interest in "women's health" is pure gaslighting ... The State "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.
No, legislation like H.B. 1510 is closer to the old Mississippi -- the Mississippi bent on controlling women and minorities. The Mississippi that, just a few decades ago, barred women from serving on juries "so they may continue their service as mothers, wives, and homemakers." The Mississippi that, in Fannie Lou Hamer's reporting, sterilized six out of ten black women in Sunflower County at the local hospital -- against their will. And the Mississippi that, in the early 1980s, was the last State to ratify the 19th Amendment -- the authority guaranteeing women the right to vote.

It also probably didn't help that Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant acknowledged "[W]e'll probably be sued here in about a half hour ... and that will be fine with me" when signing the ban. For now, however, the state's attempts to ban abortion have been put on permanent hold."

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