A federal judge temporarily blocks Mississippi’s “heartbeat” abortion law

A federal judge has temporarily blocked Mississippi’s law banning abortions at as early as six weeks — after the detection of a heartbeat — marking the beginning of what will almost certainly be a drawn-out battle in the courts.

“Allowing the law to take effect would force the clinic to stop providing most abortion care,” US District Judge Carlton Reeves wrote in the temporary injunction he issued Friday afternoon. “By banning abortions after the detection of a fetal heartbeat, the law prevents a woman’s free choice, which is central to personal dignity and autonomy.”

Conservative state lawmakers across the country have been passing aggressive anti-abortion bills in hope of undermining Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that protects a woman’s right to an abortion. Similar “heartbeat bills” have been passed in Georgia, Ohio, Iowa, and Kentucky, though none have yet taken effect.

The Mississippi law, now blocked by the courts, was set to take effect in July. The Center for Reproductive Rights representing Mississippi’s only abortion clinic — the Jackson Women’s Health Organization — challenged the law, arguing that because it takes effect before most women know they’re pregnant, it effectively constituted an unconstitutional ban on abortions.

But as Anna North and Catherine Kim have reported for Vox, the rise of heartbeat bills this year shows just how much the abortion debate has escalated in the United States. “A few years ago, such bans were considered too extreme even by some anti-abortion groups,” North and Kim write.

Sponsors of anti-abortion laws across the country have been explicit about their strategy: They’re looking for a legal fight to get in front of the Supreme Court, whose makeup is in conservatives’ favor. Since President Donald Trump’s election, the bills have become more and more extreme; Alabama earlier this month enacted a near-total ban on abortion in the state, with no exceptions for cases of rape or incest.

Even Reeves, having blocked the state’s 15-week abortion ban in November, made clear he has been here before.

The first words in his order blocking the latest law: “Here we go again.”

Go deeper

  • Vox’s Anna North explains the heartbeat bills that seek to ban abortion as early as six weeks, like the Mississippi law currently blocked in the courts.
  • Republicans want to get the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade. But as North reports, there’s a possibility this strategy of stoking legal fights by passing extreme anti-abortion legislation might actually backfire.
  • That said, Roe is still very much in danger. The landmark decision has survived for decades because of luck, Scott Lemieux writes for Vox. But that could be about to change.