On Friday (May 24), United States District Judge Carlton W. Reeves in the Southern District of Mississippi blocked Mississippi’s abortion ban that sought to prohibit the medical procedure at the point that doctors can detect a fetal heartbeat with an ultrasound—which can happen as early as six weeks of pregnancy, though scientists say “heartbeat” is not an accurate description of what doctors hear at this stage. When Mississippi Republican Governor Phil Bryant signed the law in March, he said a heartbeat was “the universal hallmark of life since man’s very beginning.”
The law was passed four months after the same judge blocked the state’s previous abortion law, the Gestational Age Act, which banned the procedure after 15 weeks with no exceptions for cases of rape or incest. In his ruling, Reeves stated it was “unconstitutional because it would prohibit access to abortion before a fetus could survive outside the pregnant woman’s body. Viability is generally considered to be about 23 or 24 weeks,” reports The Associated Press.
In Reeves’ eight-page decision on the newer law, his first sentences read, “Here we go again. Mississippi has passed another law banning abortions prior to viability.” He also wrote:
This Court previously found the 15-week ban to be an unconstitutional violation of substantive due process because the Supreme Court has repeatedly held that women have the right to choose an abortion prior to viability, and a fetus is not viable at 15 weeks lmp [since the last menstrual period]. If a fetus is not viable at 15 weeks lmp, it is not viable at 6 weeks lmp. The State conceded this point. The State also conceded at oral argument that this Court must follow Supreme Court precedent. Under Supreme Court precedent, plaintiffs are substantially likely to succeed on the merits of this claim.
A Black man did this.— Kirsten West Savali (@KWestSavali) May 24, 2019
A Black man in Mississippi did this.
A Black man in Mississippi did this from the federal bench.
You know how Mr. Rogers said look for the helpers when the world gets scary?
Well, I’m here to tell you to look for the resisters.https://t.co/0YaFAEiyQz
Mississippi is just one of four states that has passed restrictive laws against the medical procedure in 2019. Kentucky, Ohio and Georgia also have six-week bans that were signed into law (though none have gone into effect yet). Missouri’s ban is at eight weeks of pregnancy, while Alabama has a ban that prohibits abortion from the moment of conception, with no exceptions for rape or incest.
Each of these laws has faced an onslaught of criticism from reproductive activists. In Georgia, which brought in $3 billion in revenue from film productions last year, Hollywood producers and actors continue to threaten to pull projects from the state.
There is an upsurge in heartbeat bans and other restrictive measures in Republican-controlled state legislatures, as they seek to land a case before the current, conservative-majority Supreme Court in hopes of securing sharper limits or even an outright ban on the procedure.
If Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 court case that legalized abortion nationwide, is overturned, Planned Parenthood estimates that 25 million women of reproductive age could lose abortion access. And that number doesn’t take into account other people with uteri, including trans, gender nonconforming and intersex folks.
Mississippi currently has just one abortion clinic, the Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which brought the lawsuit against the state for the six-week ban and is located in Mississippi’s predominantly Black capital. Governor Bryant has referred to the abortion rate of African Americans as “genocide.”
After Friday’s court decision, Zakiya Summers of the American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi said that while abortions will not disappear as a result of these restrictive laws, they could become life-threatening. “The decision whether to become a parent is in the hands of those who are involved,” she told The AP. “It is not the politicians’ decision to make. Bodies do not belong to the government.”