Mississippi Today has compiled a list of questions in regards to abortion in Mississippi after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last week, and Mississippi’s trigger law banning abortions is set to go into effect in less than 10 days.
What case did the Supreme Court rule on?
Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization centers around Mississippi legislation passed and signed in 2018 called “The Act to Prohibit Abortion After 15 Weeks.” That law and an even stricter law that would ban abortion after six weeks were both ruled unconstitutional twice in the last few years — by both a U.S. District Court and the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.
The U.S. Supreme Court in May 2021 decided it would take up Dobbs after meeting 13 times to consider it, a move many legal analysts called unprecedented. This marked the first time since the landmark 1973 abortion rights case Roe v. Wade that the U.S. Supreme Court has taken up a pre-viability ban — a law that prohibits access to abortion based on the amount of time pregnant before the fetus is viable, or around 24 weeks.
How did the court rule?
The U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the 1973 landmark case that established a person’s right to an abortion.
What were the arguments?
When the Supreme Court heard oral arguments for the Dobbs case on Dec. 1, 2021, Chief Justice John Roberts, viewed as the most moderate of the court’s conservative wing, appeared frustrated with what he suggested was a bait-and-switch strategy the state used to transform the case into a challenge to Roe and Casey. Roberts voiced his preference to stick to that narrower question on pre-viability bans, saying “the thing that is at issue before us today is 15 weeks.”
Justice Samuel Alito rejected that position, saying “the only real options we have” are to reaffirm Roe or to overrule it.
Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan wrote in their dissent that above all others, poor women who cannot afford to seek out an abortion in a state where it remains legal will be harmed by the Court’s ruling.
Is abortion still legal in Mississippi?
Yes, for now. Mississippi is one of 13 states with a trigger law, which Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch certified on Monday. That law, which bans abortion in all cases except where the mother’s life is in danger or a rape that’s been reported to law enforcement, would go into effect 10 days from Monday. But as Mississippi’s trigger law has been discussed in the state and nationwide, no one has taken into account the fact that a 1998 ruling by the Mississippi Supreme Court declaring a right to an abortion is granted in the state Constitution.
Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the state’s sole abortion clinic, has filed a lawsuit in Hinds County Chancery Court arguing the trigger law is invalid because of the constitutional right to an abortion spelled out by the state Supreme Court in the 1998 decision.
What is Mississippi’s trigger law and what does it mean for Mississippi?
The law permits abortions only when the mother’s life is at risk or when the pregnancy resulted from a rape that has been reported to law enforcement. The trigger law and fetal heartbeat ban apply to all forms of abortion, including medication abortions that the World Health Organization says can safely end a pregnancy up to 12 weeks.
Are abortions still being performed in Mississippi?
Yes, but likely not for long. The trigger law takes effect 10 days after the attorney general issues a determination that Roe has been overturned. For the first time in 50 years, it will be nearly impossible to obtain a legal abortion in the state of Mississippi.
What’s next in the legal battle?
An all but forgotten 1998 ruling by the state Supreme Court declaring a right to an abortion is granted in the state Constitution could prolong the fight over abortion in Mississippi despite last week’s landmark decision overturning Roe v. Wade.
Jackson Women’s Health Organization has filed a lawsuit in Hinds County Chancery Court arguing the trigger law is invalid because of the constitutional right to an abortion spelled out by the state Supreme Court in the 1998 decision. Because all four Hinds County judges recused themselves from the case, the state Supreme Court will likely appoint a special judge to hear it.
Who typically gets abortions in Mississippi?
About 5,000 Mississippians had an abortion in 2020, according to the Mississippi Department of Health.
The rate of abortions in Mississippi was 4.3 abortions occurring in the state per 1,000 reproductive-age women in 2017– one of the lowest in the country. But the rate of Mississippians receiving abortions was 8.3 per 1,000 reproductive-age women, according to the Guttmacher Institute, indicating that many Mississippians have already been seeking abortions out of state. (The national rate was 11.4 per 1,000 reproductive-age women in 2019.)
What will happen to Mississippi’s only abortion clinic?
Diane Derzis, the owner of Mississippi’s only abortion clinic, the facility at the center of the Dobbs case, has said it will close. She plans to open a new clinic in Las Cruces, New Mexico, about an hour from El Paso.
Are medication abortions — or abortion pills — legal in Mississippi?
The trigger law and fetal heartbeat ban apply to all forms of abortion, including medication abortions that the World Health Organization says can safely end a pregnancy up to 12 weeks.
But reproductive rights advocates and many legal experts say it will be nearly impossible to keep medication abortion out of the state, given that state police can’t search people’s mail. Local abortion rights activists vow to help maintain access to the pills. Medication abortions already accounted for the majority of abortions performed at Jackson Women’s Health Organization.
Where will be the closest place to obtain a legal abortion?
For many Mississippians, the closest place to obtain a legal abortion will be southern Illinois. Every neighboring state is also set to ban abortion in almost all cases.
Memphis Center for Reproductive Health, a clinic that is more accessible for many north Mississippians than the Jackson clinic, has announced plans to set up a new location in Carbondale, Illinois – a six-hour drive from Jackson.
What are lawmakers in Mississippi doing to address that state’s infant mortality rate, the highest in the country, and the state’s high maternal mortality rate?
Republican leaders have offered few proposals to address the state’s abysmal infant and maternal health outcomes. This year, Speaker of the House Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, killed a Republican-led proposal to expand postpartum Medicaid coverage from 60 days to 12 months after childbirth.
The Legislature recently passed a bill that will provide a $3.5 million tax credit for crisis pregnancy centers, loosely regulated nonprofits that offer counseling and resources for pregnant women but which sometimes peddle inaccurate information about abortion.
Gov. Tate Reeves has not responded to questions about how much money his administration would invest to support extending postpartum Medicaid coverage for new moms – a measure that died in the Legislature this year. About 60% of pregnant women in Mississippi are on Medicaid.
In early June 2022, though, the governor published an op-ed titled “The New Pro-Life Agenda,” declaring that the pro-life movement must be more than anti-abortion. Almost no specifics on policy and funding proposals were mentioned. He wrote that his office has spent the past five months analyzing “our state’s laws and regulations in order to identify any possible existing rules that might present an obstacle to expectant mothers.” His office did not answer questions about what the review had found, and Mississippi Today is still waiting for the office to fulfill a public records request for that documentation.
Reeves, along with Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann and Speaker of the House Philip Gunn, praised last week’s SCOTUS decision overturning Roe v. Wade, but also said that now it means mothers, children and families will need more resources.
On Monday, Hosemann announce the “Senate Study Group on Women, Children and Families,” a nine-member committee tasked with making recommendations to the Legislature on policies pertaining to families and children from birth to 3 years old. Gunn announced last Friday the “Speaker’s Commission on the Sanctity of Life” to examine issues and policies affecting mothers and children.
-- Article credit to the staff of Mississippi Today --