Jackson Women’s Health Org. loses bid to temporarily block state’s abortion ban from going into effect

Published: Jul. 5, 2022 at 3:54 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - A chancery judge has denied the Jackson Women’s Health Organization’s request to block the state’s trigger law banning abortions from taking effect.

Tuesday, Judge Debbra Halford denied the request, in part, saying that the Mississippi Supreme Court, not the chancery court, decides matters of constitutionality.

She further opined that the state supreme court’s ruling in 1998 was based largely on U.S. Supreme Court rulings that have since been overturned.

“Since Roe and Casey are no longer the law of the land, reliance upon Fordice will almost certainly not be well-founded when pursuing this case in the Supreme Court,” she wrote. “It is more than doubtful that the Mississippi Supreme Court will continue to uphold Fordice.”

Gov. Tate Reeves lauded the decision, saying the state’s abortion bans will go into effect on July 7.

The judge did not rule on the merits of the case, only on the questions of whether an injunction and temporary restraining order should be granted.

The decision came only hours after Halford held a hearing in the case, which was filed last week by lawyers on behalf of JWHO, the state’s only abortion clinic.

“We are disappointed with this failure to enforce the Mississippi Constitution,” said Rob McDuff, an attorney for the Mississippi Center for Justice, one of the agencies that filed suit on behalf of JWHO. “We are reviewing the judge’s decision and considering our options.”

“These bans should have been blocked today,” said Hillary Schneller, a senior staff attorney for the Center for Reproductive Rights. “They violate the Mississippi constitution. People in Mississippi who need abortions right now are in a state of panic, trying to get into the clinic before it’s too late. No one should be forced to live in fear like that.”

The judge’s ruling essentially mirrored the argument the state presented during Tuesday’s hearing.

“In the past two weeks, the state of the law has changed dramatically. And the court needs to decide this motion based on the law as it now stands. You know, if we were if this is super filed a month ago, if this hearing was two weeks ago, things would be very different. The plaintiffs would have a much different claim,” Mississippi Solicitor General Scott Stewart said at the hearing.

“That’s because two weeks ago, there was a Roe v. Wade. There was a Planned Parenthood v. Casey and there was a Pro-Choice Mississippi v. Fordice. That’s no longer true,” he added. “As a result of the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson, Women’s Health Organization, there is no Roe v. Wade. There is no Planned Parenthood v. Casey. And as a result, there is no Pro-Choice Mississippi v. Fordice.”

The U.S. Supreme Court recently overturned Roe, saying the right to an abortion was not guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution. The ruling essentially leaves it up to the states as to whether abortions will be allowed.

Attorneys for JWHO argued that the state’s abortion bans should be blocked because of the Pro-Choice ruling. In that 1998 case, the Mississippi Supreme Court ruled that procedure was protected under the state’s constitution.

“The decision in Pro-Choice Mississippi... is binding precedent that prevents the state of Mississippi from outlawing abortion regardless of the current status of federal law,” attorneys for the Fondren-based abortion clinic wrote.

The judge also opined on the damages JWHO would face if the trigger ban was allowed to go into effect.

The trigger ban was slated to be effective 10 days after it was certified by Attorney General Lynn Fitch on June 27.

The law would ban most abortions in the state, except in the case where the pregnancy could potentially take the life of the mother or in the case of rape, where rape charges have been filed.

“If there is a state constitutionally protected right to abortion, it is likely that plaintiffs would suffer irreparable harm by allowing the trigger ban and the 6-week ban to be enforced during the pendency of this litigation,” she wrote. “Although many of the harms alleged by plaintiffs boil down to economic harms to the providers by having to close their clinics and to their patients for the costs of delivery and caring for unwanted children.”

“The loss of licensure and potential imprisonment arguments used by the plaintiffs are not persuasive inasmuch as those consequences can be avoided by compliance with the statutes as enforced.”

Halford also discussed whether the injunction was “consistent with the public interest.” In the judge’s case, the answer was no.

“There is a strong public interest in having the laws of a state-enforced. The trigger ban and the 6-week ban are affirmative statutes that have been properly enacted by the Mississippi Legislature through proper constitutional-making authority,” she wrote. “This court cannot find that enjoining enforcement of two properly enacted statutes in deference to a case whose constitutionality has come into such strong challenge is consistent with the public interest.”

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