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Mississippi’s Ban on Abortions After Six Weeks Held Invalid

Feb. 20, 2020, 9:12 PM

A Mississippi law that bans abortions after a fetal heartbeat has been detected, which usually occurs at about six weeks of pregnancy, is unconstitutional, the Fifth Circuit said Thursday.

The fact that a fetal heartbeat can be detected at some point before viability doomed the law, the court said in an unsigned opinion. The U.S. Supreme Court has said a woman has a constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy at any time before a fetus would be able to live outside the womb.

The court referenced an earlier decision, in which it invalidated the state’s ban on abortions that take place beyond 15 weeks after a woman’s last menstrual period.

“If a ban on abortion after 15 weeks is unconstitutional, then it follows that a ban on abortion at an earlier stage of pregnancy is also unconstitutional,” the court said.

The court wasn’t required to determine the validity of laws prohibiting abortions using certain methods or sought for certain reasons, it said.

The court affirmed a trial court order that blocked the state from enforcing the ban.

The Center for Reproductive Rights; Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP; the Mississippi Center for Justice; and Robert B. McDuff of Jackson, Miss., represented the abortion provider. The Mississippi Attorney General’s Office represented the state.

The case is Jackson Women’s Health Org. v. Dobbs, 5th Cir., No. 19-60455, 2/20/20.

To contact the reporter on this story: Mary Anne Pazanowski in Washington at mpazanowski@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rob Tricchinelli at rtricchinelli@bloomberglaw.com; Nicholas Datlowe at ndatlowe@bloomberglaw.com

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