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Lawyers: Mississippi making abortion ‘virtually unavailable’

April 26, 2019
FILE - In this Wednesday, April 10, 2019 file photo, abortion opponents stand outside the Jackson Women's Health Organization clinic, right, while construction on a hotel, background, continues in Jackson, Miss. The clinic is the only medical facility that performs abortions in the state. In a court filing Thursday, April 25, 2019, reproductive rights attorneys say a Mississippi law banning most abortions starting at about six weeks of pregnancy is unconstitutional and will make the procedure “virtually unavailable” in the state. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — A Mississippi law banning most abortions starting at about six weeks of pregnancy is unconstitutional and will make the procedure “virtually unavailable” in the state, reproductive rights attorneys say.

In a court filing Thursday, the attorneys gave detailed arguments about why they want a federal judge to block the law from taking effect July 1.

State attorneys wrote last week that Mississippi has an interest in preserving fetal life “from the moment of conception.”

The Center for Reproductive Rights and the Mississippi Center for Justice are representing Mississippi’s only abortion clinic. They sued the state in March after Republican Gov. Phil Bryant signed a law banning most abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected, about six weeks into pregnancy.

It is one of the strictest abortion laws in the U.S.

“If the ban takes effect, abortion care will be virtually unavailable in Mississippi,” attorneys Aaron Delaney and Robert McDuff wrote on behalf of the clinic.

Abortion opponents are pushing for new restrictions in several states this year. They are emboldened by new conservative justices on the Supreme Court and are hoping federal courts will uphold laws that prohibit abortions before a fetus is viable outside the womb, the dividing line the high court set in its 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion nationwide.

In 2018, Mississippi enacted a law to ban abortions after 15 weeks, and U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves struck it down, writing that it “unequivocally” violates women’s constitutional rights. Reeves is also presiding over the current challenge to the six-week ban. He is scheduled to hear oral arguments May 21 on the clinic’s request to block the new law from taking effect.

The office of Mississippi Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood wrote last week that the new law does not ban all abortions but limits when they would be legal: “As such, it is akin to laws regulating the time, place, or manner of speech, which have been upheld as constitutional.”

The clinic’s attorneys wrote in response: “Labeling the 6 Week Ban a ‘time limitation’ is ... not only nonsensical, but also misperceives the core of the right protected by the Constitution, which is the right of each woman, throughout the entire period of her pre-viability pregnancy, to decide for herself whether she will continue her pregnancy.”

The new Mississippi law says physicians who perform abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected could face revocation of their state medical licenses. It also says abortions could be allowed after a fetal heartbeat is found if a pregnancy endangers a woman’s life or one of her major bodily functions. Legislators rejected efforts to allow exceptions for pregnancies caused by rape or incest.

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Follow Emily Wagster Pettus on Twitter at http://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus .

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