Federal appeals court considering Mississippi's 15-week abortion ban

Cardiogram ultrasound baby pregnant Credit Aykut Erdogdu Shutterstock CNA Aykut Erdogdu/Shutterstock.

A federal appeals court is considering a Mississippi law ban most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. The law was signed in 2018 but is not currently in effect.

The law allows abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy only when the mother's life or a major bodily function is in danger, or when the unborn child has a severe abnormality and is not expected to be able to live outside the womb at full term. Exceptions are not granted for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest.

Under the law, physicians knowingly in violation can lose their state medical licenses, and receive a civil penalty of up to $500 if they falsify records about the circumstances of the procedure.

Republican Gov. Phil Bryant signed the legislation March 19, 2018, saying, "I am committed to making Mississippi the safest place in America for an unborn child, and this bill will help us achieve that goal."

The law was immediately challenged by the Center for Reproductive Rights, which argued that the Supreme Court has held that states may not restrict abortion before the unborn baby is viable - around 23 or 24 weeks.

U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves issued a temporary injunction against the law one day after it was passed. He issued a ruling against the law in November 2018.

Mississippi state attorneys are appealing to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Arguments in the case are being heard Oct. 7.

In defending the law, the state argued that it has an interest in protecting the life of the unborn, as well as maternal health. State attorneys have pointed to an increased risk of complications for the mother when abortion is performed further into the pregnancy. They have also made a case that unborn babies are capable of feeling pain prior to viability.

"We are saving more of the unborn than any state in America, and what better thing we could do?" Bryant said upon signing the law, noting that he anticipated lawsuits, but that "It'll be worth fighting over."

The legislation was also applauded by the bishops of Mississippi for protecting unborn human life.

Prior to the passage of the 2018 law, Mississippi barred abortion at 20 weeks into pregnancy. It also requires that those performing abortions be board-certified or -eligible obstetrician-gynecologists, and that a woman receive in-person counseling and wait 24 hours before receiving an abortion.

Only one abortion clinic remains in Mississippi. Jackson Women's Health Organization performs abortions up to 16 weeks, the Associated Press reports.

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