The abortion rights advocacy group Center for Reproductive Rights filed a lawsuit Monday challenging dozens of laws restricting access to abortion in Mississippi, some of which were implemented 25 years ago.
The sweeping suit follows an emergency filing by the Center for Reproductive Rights in late March shortly after Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant signed a 15-week abortion ban, the most restrictive abortion law in the country. A judge blocked the law until April 13.
The ban “is the straw that breaks the camel’s back,” CRR president Nancy Northup said in a press conference announcing the suit Monday morning. “The piling on and piling on got to be too much.”
Both the emergency filing and Monday’s mega-lawsuit were filed on behalf of Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the last remaining abortion clinic in Mississippi. CRR hopes the suit will extend the block on the 15-week ban until it is fully litigated.
Bryant, a longtime opponent of abortion rights, signed the Gestational Age Act into law March 19. Bills that would impose similar or even more severe restrictions have been introduced in other states, but Mississippi’s policy was the most limiting to be signed into law. Bryant’s office did not immediately respond to BuzzFeed News’ request for comment.
“As I have repeatedly said, I want Mississippi to be the safest place in America for an unborn child,” Bryant tweeted when the bill was being voted on. “House Bill 1510 will help us achieve that goal.”
Among the laws challenged by Monday’s suit is the state’s mandatory 24-hour waiting period between an abortion consultation and obtaining an abortion. The suit argues that requiring two trips to the clinic, coupled with the delay, create an “undue burden” for women in the state who have to travel hours to Jackson for the procedure, causing them to miss work or need to find child care.
Also targeted in the 59-page suit are Mississippi’s law banning telemedicine consultations (meaning discussion with a physician via phone, email, or video call) for abortion procedures; a law mandating that only physicians can perform abortions and not trained nurses or other medical practitioners; and several safety regulations for abortion clinics that the suit claims are not imposed at any other kinds of medical clinics and are designed to force closures of clinics that violate the rules.
This omnibus lawsuit is not the first of its kind. In 2017, Center for Reproductive Rights filed a similar suit against several laws in Louisiana. The state tried to get the litigation thrown out, but last week a federal judge rejected those efforts, allowing the lawsuit to move forward. In its opinion, the US District Court wrote that the state cannot “attack abortion providers in a death-by-a-thousand-cuts strategy.”
The abortion advocacy organization was emboldened by the 2016 Supreme Court decision Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, in which Center for Reproductive Rights challenged two Texas abortion-restricting laws. The decision reaffirmed the unconstitutionality of an “undue burden” on women's access to abortion.
“The clarity the Supreme Court’s decision gave to the lower courts gave it a clearer standard, so we can now go after long-standing laws that have been on the books for years,” Northup said.
Next, the parties and the court will likely set a schedule for how the case will proceed before the judge makes any decisions about whether or not to extend the temporary restraining order on Mississippi's 15-week abortion ban.