Will Mississippi’s 15-Week Abortion Law Survive Constitutional Muster?


On March 19, 2018, Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant signed an abortion bill into law that some say will likely be overturned. The new law places a ban on abortions after only 15 weeks of pregnancy, making it the shortest gestational age limitation on abortions in the U.S.  The Governor has stated that the law will help make Mississippi the “safest place in America for an unborn child.”  Opponents, however, are arguing that this unprecedented ban is unconstitutional and endangers the health care of women in Mississippi. The Center for Reproductive Rights, among the opponents, is characterizing the law as a “flagrant assault on reproductive rights” and is fighting to have it overturned. Similar laws that have attempted to be passed in other states were all overturned by the court system, which has consistently found that such short gestational age limitations create an undue burden for women seeking to have an abortion and, therefore, violate women’s constitutional right to an abortion.

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Potentially Dangerous Precedent Possible in Mississippi

Anti-fetal homicide laws were enacted originally to protect mothers of unborn children against violent acts. Yet, in reality, “they’ve led to disproportionate prosecution against African American women who suffer miscarriages.” An ongoing case in Mississippi could set a dangerous precedent with regard to the criminalization of pregnant women for their purportedly reckless acts.  Rennie Gibbs was charged with the murder of her unborn child after it was stillborn when she was 16 years old. Gibbs is being prosecuted for “depraved heart murder” because the autopsy showed that Gibbs had used cocaine during her pregnancy—but the cause of death was originally attributed to the umbilical cord being wrapped around the infant’s neck. That cause of death was never ruled out.

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