Federal judge strikes one of harshest abortion bans, notes ‘sad irony’ of male lawmakers writing it

Judge Carlton Reeves said the law signaled a return to a "Mississippi bent on controlling women and minorities."

Pro-choice and anti-abortion protesters  demonstrate in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on July 9, 2018 in Washington, DC.  (Credit: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)
Pro-choice and anti-abortion protesters demonstrate in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on July 9, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Credit: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)

A federal judge lamented the “sad irony” of men on the Mississippi legislature crafting anti-abortion laws, as he struck down on Tuesday a state law that aimed to ban the procedure after 15 weeks.

The law — which went into effect in March and was met with a lawsuit from Mississippi’s sole abortion provider shortly thereafter — represented one of the harshest abortion bans in the country.

Judge Carlton Reeves, district judge for the Southern District of Mississippi, concluded that the 15-week ban showed that the largely male legislature’s proclaimed interest in protecting reproductive health was “pure gaslighting,” as lawmakers have done little to address the state’s “high infant and maternal mortality rates.”

“Its leaders are proud to challenge Roe but choose not to lift a finger to address the tragedies lurking on the other side of the delivery room, such as high infant and maternal mortality rates,” Reeves wrote in his opinion.


He added that the legislation, also known as the Gestational Age Act, “is closer to the old Mississippi — the Mississippi bent on controlling women and minorities.”

The law allowed for exceptions in cases of fetal abnormalities or medical emergencies, but did not include exceptions for rape or incest.

Mississippi is already one of the most restrictive states when it comes to abortion rights. The state requires abortion providers to be board-certified or board-eligible obstetrician-gynecologists, a requirement deemed medically unnecessary by the American College of Obsreticians and Gynecologists. It also forces people seeking abortions to undergo in-person counseling and a 24-hour waiting period before obtaining the procedure, meaning patients must often travel long distances to visit the clinic multiple times.

Furthermore, Mississippi is one of four states with a “trigger law,” which would ban abortion outright in the event that the Supreme Court chooses to overturn Roe v. Wade, a scenario that seems increasingly likely given the Court’s current conservative majority.


“The fact that men, myself included, are determining how women may choose to manage their reproductive health is a sad irony not lost on the court,” Reeves wrote.

“As a man, who cannot get pregnant or seek an abortion, I can only imagine the anxiety and turmoil a woman might experience when she decides whether to terminate her pregnancy through an abortion. Respecting her autonomy demands that this statute be enjoined.”

Mississippi will likely challenge the ruling, which also affects the outcome of a similar law in neighboring Louisiana. There, state lawmakers passed a similar 15-week abortion ban based on the Mississippi law, with the caveat that it would go into effect only if the Mississippi law is upheld in federal court.

Though 15 weeks is the earliest of any abortion ban currently on the books, state lawmakers aren’t stopping there. Last week, Ohio lawmakers passed a “fetal heartbeat” bill that aims to ban abortion at six weeks. While Gov. John Kasich (R) vowed to block the measure, the Ohio legislature may have enough votes to overturn Kasich’s potential veto. Similarly, in Iowa, lawmakers passed a six-week abortion ban this past spring, but a state judge blocked the law weeks before it was set to take effect.

This story was updated to clarify that Iowa has also passed a six-week ban that has not taken effect since it was blocked in June, making the Mississippi law one of the harshest bans, not the harshest, in the country.