Judge holds hearing on challenge of Mississippi abortion law

Jul 4, 2022, 8:57 PM | Updated: Jul 5, 2022, 10:15 am

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — A judge held a hearing Tuesday but didn’t say how she would decide a lawsuit filed by Mississippi’s only abortion clinic, which is trying to remain open by blocking a law that would ban most abortions in the state.

The law — which state lawmakers passed before the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the 1973 ruling that allowed abortions nationwide — is set to take effect Thursday.

The Jackson Women’s Health Organization sought a temporary restraining order that would allow it to remain open, at least while the lawsuit remains in court.

The closely watched lawsuit is part of a flurry of activity that has occurred nationwide since the Supreme Court ruled. Conservative states have moved to halt or limit abortions while others have sought to ensure abortion rights, all as some women try to obtain the medical procedure against the changing legal landscape.

Meanwhile a Florida judge on Tuesday temporarily blocked a new 15-week abortion ban days after it took effect in the state, an expected move following an oral ruling last week in which he said the law violated the state constitution.

In Mississippi, if Chancery Judge Debbra K. Halford grants the clinic’s request to block the new state law from taking effect, the decision could be quickly appealed to the state Supreme Court. Halford presided at a hearing without issuing a decision or saying when she would rule.

The new Mississippi law says abortion will be legal only if the pregnant woman’s life is in danger or if a pregnancy is caused by a rape reported to law enforcement. It does not have an exception for pregnancies caused by incest.

Mississippi was one of several states with a “trigger” law contingent on the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade. The law was passed in 2007 and has never been challenged in court.

The clinic’s lawsuit cites a 1998 Mississippi Supreme Court ruling that said the state constitution invokes a right to privacy that “includes an implied right to choose whether or not to have an abortion.” That state decision was rooted in U.S. Supreme Court decisions in 1973 and 1992 that established or protected abortion rights but were overturned on June 24.

In arguments filed Sunday, the state attorney general’s office said the Mississippi Constitution does not recognize a right to abortion and the state has a long history of restricting the procedure.

“Text, history, and precedent all show that the Mississippi Constitution does not protect a right to abortion and that the laws here are valid,” the attorney general’s office wrote.

The lawsuit was filed three days after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in a case that originated in Mississippi.

The clinic has continued to see patients, but owner Diane Derzis said it will close if the near-ban on abortions takes effect.

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Judge holds hearing on challenge of Mississippi abortion law