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Federal Judge Strikes Down Mississippi’s Restrictive Abortion Ban as ‘Pure Gaslighting’

Judge Carlton Reeves derided the law as “unequivocally” unconstitutional

A pro-abortion rights supporter holds up a sign that reads "My Body. My Choice" during a rally outside the Supreme Court in Washington, as the Supreme Court hears arguments in a free speech fight over California's attempt to regulate anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centersSupreme Court Crisis Pregnancy Centers, Washington, USA - 20 Mar 2018

A reproductive rights supporter holds up a sign that reads "My Body. My Choice" during a rally outside the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C.

Andrew Harnik/AP/REX Shutterstock

A federal judge has struck down a ban on abortion after 15 weeks that was passed by the Mississippi state legislature in March. In a blistering opinion, Judge Carlton Reeves declares the legislature’s “professed interest in ‘women’s health’ is pure gaslighting.”

Reeves sided with Jackson Women’s Health Organization — Mississippi’s sole abortion facility and the organization that sued over ban — deeming the law “unequivocally” unconstitutional.

In plain terms, Reeves dismantles the legislature’s argument and lays bare the law’s true motivation. “[T]he real reason we are here is simple,” Reeves explains. “The state chose to pass a law it knew was unconstitutional to endorse a decades-long campaign, fueled by national interest groups, to ask the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade.”

Religious groups like the Alliance for Defending Freedom have made little secret of their intention to convince state legislatures, like Mississippi’s, to pass laws onerous enough that the Supreme Court might be forced to consider, once again, the question of whether a woman’s right to an abortion is protected by the Constitution.

Mississippi, Reeves writes, ranks as the state with the most [medical] challenges for women, infants and children “but is silent on expanding Medicaid.” He notes that the state’s leaders are eager to impose restrictions in the name of saving lives, “but choose not to lift a finger to address the tragedies lurking on the other side of the delivery room: our alarming infant and maternal mortality rates.”

Reeves places the ban squarely in context, writing “legislation like H.B. 1510 is closer to the old Mississippi — the Mississippi bent on controlling women and minorities.” He draws parallels to the state’s passage in 1928, of a law legalizing sterilization individuals deemed undesirable by the state — a law that ultimately led to six-in-10 black women in one Mississippi County to be sterilized against their will.  

He notes, too, that the state was the last to ratify the 19th amendment guaranteeing women the right to vote: while two-thirds of the states ratified the amendment back in 1919, making it federal law, Mississippi didn’t follow suit until 1984. Until just a few decades ago, he writes, Mississippi barred women from serving on juries, “so they may continue their service as mothers, wives, and homemakers.”

“The fact that men, myself included, are determining how women may choose to manage their reproductive health is a sad irony not lost on the Court,” Reeves writes, “As a man, who cannot get pregnant or seek an abortion, I can only imagine the anxiety and turmoil a woman might experience when she decides whether to terminate her pregnancy through an abortion. Respecting her autonomy demands that this statute be enjoined.”

On Tuesday, Mississippi voters will return to the polls for a senate runoff between Republican Cindy Hyde-Smith and Democrat Mike Espy. Hyde-Smith, who has been in the news this week for bigoted comments, is a staunch pro-life advocate who “believes all children, including the unborn, are guaranteed the right to life by our Creator,” according to her campaign website. Hyde-Smith is receiving support in this last stretch of the campaign from the anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony List and has vowed to confirm pro-life judges. She has yet to weigh in on Reeves’ ruling.

In This Article: Abortion

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