WASHINGTON — A federal judge in Mississippi on Friday temporarily blocked the state from enforcing a new law that largely bans abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected, usually around six weeks.
"Here we go again," wrote US District Judge Carlton Reeves, who previously ruled against Mississippi's 15-week abortion law in November after concluding it was unconstitutional.
Reeves wrote that the US Supreme Court had "repeatedly held" that women have the right to choose to have an abortion before the fetus is viable. A fetus wasn't viable at 15 weeks, he wrote, which meant it wasn't viable at six weeks either. He granted a preliminary injunction blocking the state from enforcing the law while the case went forward.
"By banning abortions after the detection of a fetal heartbeat, S.B. 2116 prevents a woman’s free choice, which is central to personal dignity and autonomy," Reeves wrote. "This injury outweighs any interest the State might have in banning abortions after the detection of a fetal heartbeat."
Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood said in a statement that he would appeal to the US Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, which he contends "has not squarely addressed this issue."
Mississippi is one of five states to pass a fetal heartbeat law. Judges in Iowa, Kentucky, and North Dakota previously have blocked abortion bans in those states from taking effect. A lawsuit in Ohio is pending, and reproductive rights groups have vowed to file suit over a law in Georgia. None of these laws have taken effect yet.
Anti-abortion advocates see litigation over laws such as the one passed in Mississippi as vehicles to convince the Supreme Court to reconsider the 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade, which established that women have a constitutional right to abortion. Lower courts remain bound by Roe in the meantime, however.
The ACLU and Planned Parenthood filed a lawsuit Friday challenging a law passed in Alabama that, if it takes effect in November, would be the strictest abortion law in the nation — it makes it a crime for health care providers to perform all abortions unless the life of the women is in "serious" risk.
Reeves, who was confirmed to the US District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi in 2010, has been openly critical of the Trump administration and Senate Republicans, a rarity among federal judges. As BuzzFeed News reported in April, Reeves delivered a speech at a law school in April calling the Trump administration a "great assault on our judiciary" and comparing the president's criticism of the judiciary to tactics used by the Ku Klux Klan and segregationists.
He blasted the White House and Senate Republicans for the lack of diversity among Trump's judicial nominees, saying they were "not stumbling unaware towards a homogeneous judiciary."
Updated with comment from Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood.