15-week abortion ban, other abortion law signed by governor_lowres (copy)

A federal appeals court heard arguments on Monday, Oct. 7 on a 2018 Mississippi law that would ban most abortions after the 15th week of pregnancy. If the court upholds the law, Louisiana's law will go into effect.

Last November, U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves permanently blocked a 2018 Mississippi law that would ban most abortions after 15 weeks. But the battle over the law — which a similar law in Louisiana hinges on — is not over yet.

Three 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals judges heard oral arguments on the law in New Orleans today, during which the state of Mississippi claimed the district court should have allowed it to present evidence about whether a fetus feels pain during an abortion before it made its ruling last year.

In that ruling, Reeves,  who hears cases in the Southern District of Mississippi, called the law “a facially unconstitutional ban on abortions prior to viability.” He referred to the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Roe v. Wade, which established a woman’s right to an abortion before the fetus is viable, or can live outside the womb, on the basis of the right to privacy.

The 5th Circuit Court, which covers Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas, is considered more conservative than other appeals courts. In September 2018, it upheld a Louisiana law requiring abortion providers to have admitting privileges to a nearby hospital — potentially leaving the state with only one abortion provider. The Supreme Court agreed last week to hear arguments in that case, marking the first time its new conservative majority will hear a major abortion case.

If the 5th Circuit Court upholds the Mississippi ban, Louisiana’s 15-week ban would kick in, putting taxpayers on the hook for any legal costs accrued should the case go to the Supreme Court.

Mississippi's ban only allows exceptions in the cases of a medical emergency or severe fetal abnormality. Louisiana's ban, which also was passed in 2018, did not change existing abortion law, which allows exceptions to “preserve the life or health of the unborn child," "to remove a stillborn child” or to save the life of the mother. 

Louisiana’s ban also states that anyone who performs an abortion after 15 weeks would face a prison sentence of up to two years. There would be no legal penalty for the woman who received the abortion.

The 5th Circuit Court’s ruling could impact the future of the laws Louisiana and Mississippi passed earlier this year that would outlaw abortions once an embryo’s heartbeat is detected, around the sixth week of pregnancy — before many women know they are pregnant. 

As with the 15-week ban, Louisiana’s “6-week ban,” also known as “the heartbeat bill,” will only go into effect if federal courts uphold Mississippi’s version of the law — a provision meant to save Louisiana money defending the legislation in court.

Both Louisiana’s 15-week and six-week bans were authored by State Sen. John Milkovich, D-Shreveport, a staunch anti-abortion legislator who has said he is in favor of banning all abortions in the state.

The six-week ban was just one of several abortion restrictions the state passed this year, part of a broader trend of anti-abortion legislation that made its way through conservative state legislatures around the country this year. 

As legal battles ensue, more of that legislation could end up in the Supreme Court in the coming years.

Follow Kaylee Poche on Twitter: @kaylee_poche

Email Gambit staff writer Kaylee Poche at kayleep@gambitweekly.com.