JACKSON, Miss. (March 22, 2019) – Yesterday, Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant signed a bill into law prohibiting abortions if doctors can detect a fetal heartbeat in most situations, defying a Supreme Court opinion effectively barring states from regulating abortions before 24 weeks.
Sixteen Republican senators sponsored Senate Bill 2116 (SB2116). The new law prohibits “an abortion of an unborn human individual with a detectable fetal heartbeat.” The law creates an exception if an abortion is necessary to save the life of the mother or to “prevent a serious risk of the substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function of the woman.” Doctors who perform an abortion in violation of the law will be subject to revocation of their medical licenses.
Last year, Bryant signed a bill barring abortions after 15 weeks. A federal court struck the law down. Although the case is being appealed to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, the state is not taking any steps to hold the line or defy the federal courts in any way.
Mississippi’s new law would be among the most restrictive in the nation if it were enforced. A fetal heartbeat can be detected as early as 6 weeks.
Earlier this month, Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin signed a fetal heartbeat bill similar to Mississippi’s into law. It was set to go into immediate effect and has already been blocked in court by a federal judge, and in practice by a lack of enforcement.
At least 20 states have now passed laws claiming to restrict abortions earlier than 20 weeks.
In Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992), the Supreme reaffirmed the opinion in Roe v. Wade that a woman has an absolute right to an abortion until fetal viability while rejecting a trimester structure the court initially used to determine when states could regulate abortion. Current Supreme Court precedent effectively prohibits states from regulating abortion before 24 weeks.
The new Mississippi law effectively nullifies the SCOTUS criteria should the state hold the line in the face of future opposition.
This is the operative question: will the state hold the line? Or was this legislation merely intended to create a court controversy and open the door for the Supreme Court to reconsider its opinion? And an even bigger question: what will the state do if the Supreme Court upholds Roe v. Wade – a likely outcome considering the Court’s reluctance to overturn settled precedent? Is the state of Mississippi willing to enforce its abortion law whether the federal government gives it permission or not, or is this just political grandstanding?
Alternatively, if the Supreme Court were to reject precedent and overturn Wade, would Mississippi’s current opponents merely sit on the sidelines and wait till the next election or the next chance, possibly decades later, to reinstate it? Only time will tell which side, if any, is truly willing to make a stand for what they believe in.