Mississippi judge hears lawsuit over state’s abortion trigger law, but hasn’t ruled yet
Published 2:03 pm Tuesday, July 5, 2022
Attorneys argued over abortion laws Tuesday in three Southern states in response to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that gave states the power to limit or outlaw the termination of pregnancies.
In Mississippi, a judge held a hearing but didn’t say how or when she would rule in a lawsuit filed by the state’s only abortion clinic, which is trying to remain open by blocking a law that would ban most abortions in the state.
The law is set to take effect Thursday. Legislators passed it before the U.S. Supreme Court recently overturned the 1973 ruling that allowed abortions nationwide.
The clinic, Jackson Women’s Health Organization, is seeking a temporary restraining order that would allow it to remain open, at least while the lawsuit remains in court.
The closely watched lawsuit is part of a flurry of activity nationwide since the Supreme Court ruled. Conservative states have moved to halt or limit abortions while others have sought to ensure abortion rights, all as some women try to obtain the medical procedure against the changing legal landscape.
Florida’s new 15-week abortion ban was blocked but then quickly reinstated Tuesday, following an appeal from the state attorney general in a lawsuit challenging the restriction. Judge John C. Cooper issued the order temporarily halting the law after reproductive health providers argued that the state constitution guarantees a right to the procedure. The state quickly appealed his order, automatically placing the law back in effect.
The Florida law prohibits abortions after 15 weeks, with exceptions if the procedure is necessary to save the pregnant woman’s life, prevent serious injury or if the fetus has a fatal abnormality. It does not allow for exemptions for pregnancies caused by rape, incest or human trafficking.
Violators could face up to five years in prison. Physicians and other medical professionals could lose their licenses and face administrative fines of $10,000 for each violation. The law, which went into effect Friday, was passed by the GOP-controlled legislature and signed by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis this spring.
In Louisiana, the state attorney general has asked the state Supreme Court to allow enforcement of a ban on most abortions. Louisiana’s anti-abortion statutes include so-called triggers that were designed to instantly take effect if the U.S. Supreme Court were to reverse abortion rights. But a state judge in New Orleans last week blocked enforcement of the law pending a court hearing on a lawsuit filed by a north Louisiana abortion clinic and others.
The Louisiana lawsuit says the law is unclear on when the ban takes effect and on medical exceptions to the ban. Tuesday’s filing by the attorney general’s office says the order blocking enforcement should be dissolved.
In Mississippi, if Chancery Judge Debbra K. Halford grants the clinic’s request to block the new state law from taking effect, the decision could be quickly appealed to the state Supreme Court. Halford presided at a hearing without issuing a decision from the bench.
Mississippi was one of several states with a “trigger” law contingent on the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade. The law was passed in 2007 and has never been challenged in court. It says abortion will be legal only if the pregnant woman’s life is in danger or if a pregnancy is caused by a rape reported to law enforcement. It does not have an exception for pregnancies caused by incest.
The clinic’s lawsuit cites a 1998 Mississippi Supreme Court ruling that said the state constitution invokes a right to privacy that “includes an implied right to choose whether or not to have an abortion.”
The state attorney general’s office argued that the 1998 ruling was rooted in U.S. Supreme Court decisions in 1973 and 1992 that established or protected abortion rights but were overturned on June 24. But Rob McDuff, an attorney for the clinic, argued that state justices never said their ruling was made because of the federal Constitution.
“They never said it would evaporate if Roe was ever overruled,” McDuff said in court Tuesday.
The state attorney general’s office said the Mississippi Constitution does not recognize a right to abortion and the state has a long history of restricting the procedure.
“In the past two weeks, the state of the law has changed dramatically,” the state solicitor general, Scott Stewart, argued Tuesday in court.
The lawsuit was filed three days after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in a case that originated in Mississippi. The clinic has continued to see patients, but owner Diane Derzis said it will close if the near-ban on abortions takes effect.
Outside the courthouse Tuesday in Mississippi’s capital city, several women held signs supporting abortion rights while two men took turns using a microphone to tell abortion rights supporters that God would punish them for eternity.
“You’re bloodthirsty. Bloodthirsty, abominable filth in the eyes of God,” said one of the anti-abortion protesters, Allen Siders. “Consider your ways today, sinners. Consider your ways today. Shame on you.”
An abortion-rights supporter performed an improvised dance in front of Siders to mock him, and several women laughed.