in ,

Mississippi Abortion Ban Blocked by 5th Circuit Appeals Court, Setting Stage for Possible Supreme Court Showdown

A protester stands outside the Jackson Women's Health Organization, Mississippi's only abortion clinic, in March 2013. Photo by Ashton Pittman.

Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban, known as the “Gestational Age Act,” is unconstitutional, a federal appeals court in New Orleans ruled on Friday. A three-judge panel on the federal 5th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals—a conservative-leaning court that hears cases originating in Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas—found that the ban violates the principles of earlier U.S. Supreme Court rulings.

In this case, the court found, Mississippi’s 2018 law would outright ban many pre-viability abortions. Mississippi’s only abortion clinic already stops performing abortions after 16 weeks gestation. A federal court in Jackson blocked the law late last year.

“States may regulate abortion procedures prior to viability so long as they do not impose an undue burden on the woman’s right, but they may not ban abortions,” Friday’s ruling reads. “The law at issue is a ban. Thus, we affirm the district court’s invalidation of the law, as well as its discovery rulings and its award of permanent injunctive relief.”

Mississippi could appeal the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, which has grown more favorable to anti-abortion arguments since Donald Trump appointed Justice Brett Kavanaugh to the bench. Abortion rights groups worry such a case could risk the overturn of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 ruling that legalized abortion nationwide.

Mississippi could also ask the full 5th Circuit to hear the case, instead of just a three-judge panel.

The U.S. Supreme Court is already set to hear arguments over a Louisiana abortion clinic regulations law that would likely shut down all but one clinic in the State if allowed to take effect.

The 5th Circuit has yet to rule on another Mississippi law, passed earlier this year, which bans abortions once a fetal heartbeat becomes detectable. That typically happens at around six-weeks gestation.

Earlier this year, Mississippi State Sen. Joey Fillingane, a Republican who backed both the 2018 and 2019 abortion restrictions, told the Jackson Free Press that the goal is to try to get a “test case” to the U.S. Supreme Court to challenge Roe v. Wade.

“With a fifth conservative taking the seat of Justice Kennedy, who was considered a moderate on the court, I think a lot of people thought, finally, we have five conservative justices and so now would be a good time to start testing the limits of Roe,” Fillingane said.