UPDATE: A judge temporarily blocks Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban, one day after it became law

The nation's earliest abortion ban signed into law was in effect for less than 24 hours.

Mississipi Gov. Phil Bryant (C) appears on the floor during the first day of the Republican National Convention on July 18, 2016 at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. (Credit:  Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Mississipi Gov. Phil Bryant (C) appears on the floor during the first day of the Republican National Convention on July 18, 2016 at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. (Credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

A federal judge temporarily blocked Mississippi’s new restrictive abortion law, which bans the procedure after 15 weeks gestation. The 15-week abortion ban makes exceptions only for cases of fetal abnormality or medical emergencies, but not for rape or incest.

Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant (R) signed the 15-week abortion ban into law Monday — shortly after the state’s only abortion clinic sued. The law was in effect for less than 24 hours. On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves granted a temporary restraining order requested by Mississippi’s only abortion provider, Jackson Women’s Health Organization.

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The governor said his “goal is to end abortions in Mississippi.” While a federal judge has temporarily blunted the governor and anti-choice movement’s mission, the 15-week ban is meant to set up a future confrontation in court. The anti-choice movement is ultimately hoping the federal courts will prohibit abortion before the fetus is viable, which goes against federal law.

Mississippi — home to almost 3 million people — already had one of the most restrictive abortion laws in place nationwide. The state ties with North Carolina, as they both ban the procedure 20 weeks after a person’s last menstrual period. No one has legally challenged the 20-week ban in Mississippi because the state’s only abortion clinic performs procedures up to 16.5 weeks.

The state’s only clinic sees roughly 2,000 people each year and nine out of 10 abortions take place during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, Dr. Willie Parker, a physician at the clinic, told the PBS NewsHour. He said a 15-week ban exacerbates the abortion provider shortage, as people will travel longer distances — likely leaving the state for the procedure — and “take risks [they don’t] have to take.”

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Bryant has said he aims to make Mississippi the safest place in America for an unborn child, but the state is faring poorly when it comes to protecting infants and children. According to a 2018 report by the United Health Foundation, Mississippi is ranked as the worst state in the country for clinical care for children and has the highest infant mortality and premature death rates.

As Mississippi lawmakers try to make it harder for people to obtain this safe medical procedure, they’re using misleading, inaccurate information to present their case.

“At twelve (12) weeks’ gestation, an unborn human being can open and close his or her fingers, starts to make sucking motions, and senses stimulation from the world outside the womb. Importantly, he or she has taken on ‘the human form’ in all relevant aspects,” state lawmakers wrote in House Bill 1510. This provision is extremely misleading, and shames people looking to have an abortion. Evidence-based research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2005 shows “the capacity for fetal pain is limited but indicates that fetal perception of pain is unlikely before the third trimester.” The third trimester begins at 27 to 28 weeks.

Lawmakers also write that “The majority of abortion procedures performed after fifteen (15) weeks’ gestation are dilation and evacuation procedures which involve the use of surgical instruments to crush and tear the unborn child apart before removing the pieces of the dead child from the womb.” Dilation and evacuation is the most commonly used method, but it is a safe and effective way to terminate a pregnancy. How it actually works: a physician dilates the patient’s cervix and removes the fetus using medical instruments.

“I refer to it as an ‘abortion’ or ‘abortion procedure’ versus qualifying them as surgical abortions since they aren’t all surgical,” said Dr. Bhavik Kumar, a physician who performs abortion at Whole Woman’s Health Austin in Texas told ThinkProgress in reference to dilation and evacuation. “In addition, According to a the latest independent, nonpartisan research from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM) this procedure is the  ‘superior method’ for abortions after 16 weeks, and is safe with minimal rates of complications.”

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Language used in House Bill 1510, which is now law, is not medically accurate and is meant to stigmatize the procedure.

This story has been updated to include information about a judge temporarily blocking the 15-week ban.