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reproductive rights

Mississippi Governor Signs Country's Earliest Abortion Ban Into Law

There are no exceptions in HB 1510​ ​for rape or incest, and the state was immediately sued for defying Supreme Court precedent.

Susan Rinkunas

Amy Drucker/Stocksy

Yesterday, Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant signed a bill into law that bans abortions after 15 weeks' gestation, the earliest ban in the country. The Mississippi House sent the bill to his desk after passing it on International Women's Day. (The Senate had passed an amended version and the House needed to sign off on it.)

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There are no exceptions in HB 1510 for rape or incest, and the bill went into effect immediately. Doctors who perform abortions past 15 weeks would lose their license to practice medicine and face civil penalties. After Bryant signed the bill, The Center for Reproductive Rights quickly filed a lawsuit challenging it on behalf of the state's only abortion provider, Jackson Women's Health. The complaint argues that the law violates longstanding Supreme Court precedent that states cannot impose bans on abortion before viability.

The Center's CEO Nancy Northup said in a statement: "Mississippi politicians have shown once again that they will stop at nothing to deny women this fundamental right, targeting the state’s last remaining clinic in defiance of the U.S. Supreme Court and decades of settled precedent. Politicians are not above the rule of law, and we are confident this dangerous bill will be struck down like every similar attempt before it."

Bryant tweeted this after signing the bill:

Mississippi has the highest rates of infant mortality in the country and one of the highest rates of maternal mortality.

There is only one abortion clinic left in the state. Mississippi is currently tied with North Carolina for the country's earliest ban, at 20 weeks beyond the woman's last menstrual period (aka 18 weeks post-fertilization), according to the Guttmacher Institute. Exceptions are in place if a woman's life is in danger, her physical health is severely compromised, or if there's a fatal fetal abnormality. HB 1510 is the same as the current law, but bans the procedure 5 weeks earlier.

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Bans around or before this point in pregnancy have been repeatedly ruled as unconstitutional. In 2014, federal courts struck down a 12-week ban in Arkansas and a 6-week ban in North Dakota. In 2016, the Supreme Court refused to review those cases. Roe v. Wade established a woman's right to obtain an abortion before a fetus is viable outside the womb, which is accepted to be 24 weeks gestation (or 22 weeks post-fertilization).

Women in Mississippi seeking abortions must first receive state-directed counseling, wait 24 hours, undergo an ultrasound and be offered to view the image. The Center for Reproductive Rights is currently suing the state over its requirement that only board-certified or board-eligible obstetrician-gynecologists can perform abortions.

After the Senate passed the bill, the ACLU of Mississippi executive director Jennifer Riley Collins said in a statement: "Mississippi already has some of the most restrictive abortion laws in the United States, including laws that impose a 24-hour waiting period and that compel doctors to make medically false statements about the risks of abortion. If HB 1510 becomes law, it will end up at the center of a legal battle, wasting tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars in legal fees," adding, “the real agenda from some state legislators is to ban abortion outright. Since they can’t, they are using this restrictive bill to put abortion out of reach."

Update 3/20/18: This story has been updated throughout to reflect that Governor Phil Bryant signed HB 1510 into law and The Center for Reproductive Rights has filed a lawsuit.

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