Law & the Courts

Federal Judges Strike Down Mississippi Heartbeat Abortion Ban

Mississippi State Capitol in Jackson, Miss. (Wikipedia)

Federal judges on Thursday struck down Mississippi’s ban on abortions performed after a fetal heartbeat can be detected, which usually occurs at around six weeks into pregnancy.

The decision by the three-judge panel of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals blocks the law from going into effect and upholds a lower court’s May decision to do the same. The judges argued that at six weeks, a fetus is not yet viable outside the womb.

“[A]ll agree that cardiac activity can be detected well before the fetus is viable. That dooms the law,” the panel wrote.

The Fifth Circuit previously in December blocked Mississippi’s separate 15-week abortion ban.

“If a ban on abortion after 15 weeks is unconstitutional, then it follows that a ban on abortion at an earlier stage of pregnancy is also unconstitutional,” the judges reasoned in Thursday’s decision.

The Center for Reproductive Rights, which sued the state over the heartbeat bill, celebrated the ruling in a Thursday tweet, saying the law “marked an even more extreme attempt to take away the rights of Mississippi residents. Not on our watch.”

“Despite the relentless attempts of Mississippi and other states, the right to legal abortion remains the law of the land,” said Hillary Schneller, the group’s senior staff attorney.

Six other states, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Alabama, and Ohio passed strict abortion bans last year, all of which have been blocked by federal courts. Opponents of abortion rights hope such bills will spark court challenges that lead to a reconsideration of Roe. v. Wade, the landmark abortion rights Supreme Court case that legalized abortion nationwide.

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