With the stroke of a pen, Mississippi has signed its place in history with the strictest abortion restriction in the United States. Now, it will have to prove the law can stand up in court.
On Monday, Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant followed through on his promise to sign into law a bill that bans nearly all abortions after 15 weeks of gestation. No other state bans abortion so early on in pregnancy.
“I am committed to making Mississippi the safest place in America for an unborn child, and this bill will help us achieve that goal,” Bryant, a Republican, tweeted Monday evening alongside a video of him signing the bill.
The law, which took effect instantly, forbids people from getting abortions after 15 weeks, even if the pregnancy is the result of incest or rape. Now abortion providers will only be able to perform the procedure after 15 weeks if the fetus has a health problem that makes it “incompatible with life,” or if the pregnant woman’s life or “major bodily function” is endangered.
In the video, Bryant is seen telling the people surrounding his desk, “We’ll probably sued here in about a half hour.” Looking up at the camera, he adds, “That’ll be fine with me.”
Bryant’s prediction wasn’t too far off: Within hours of the bill becoming law, the Center for Reproductive Rights filed a lawsuit on behalf of the state’s only abortion clinic, the Jackson Women’s Health Organization, and asked a U.S. district judge to immediately halt the ban’s implementation.
“Under decades of Supreme Court precedent, the State of Mississippi cannot ban abortion priority to viability, regardless of what exceptions are provided to the ban,” the lawsuit argues. “Accordingly, the ban is unconstitutional as applied to all women seeking pre-viability abortions after 15 weeks.”
Prior to the ban, abortion was illegal in Mississippi after 20 weeks of pregnancy, but Jackson Women’s Health Organization only performed abortions up until just over 16 weeks’ of pregnancy. If the law is not halted, the clinic’s manager estimates it will potentially affect about 200 women per year, Ashley Gray, a state policy adviser for the Center for Reproductive Rights, told VICE News earlier this month.
However, Mississippi isn’t the first state to attempt to ban abortion so early on in a pregnancy, Gray said. North Dakota recently tried to enforce a six week ban on abortion, while Arkansas sought to ban abortion after 12 weeks. Courts struck down both laws.
“We’ve seen these bans may come to the governors’ desk,” Gray said. “But usually they’re vetoed because they’re so unconstitutional and they prefer to save the taxpayers in this state a hefty legal charge.”
Cover image: Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant (L) looks on during a meeting of the National Governors Association at the White House in Washington, DC, February 23, 2015. AFP PHOTO/JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images