Mississippi becomes latest state to approve 'heartbeat' law designed to ban most abortions

The law will almost certainly be challenged in court as contrary to Roe v. Wade.

March 21, 2019, 5:06 PM

Mississippi on Thursday became the latest state to try to ban most abortions when its governor signed a so-called "Heartbeat Bill," a measure designed to undermine Roe v. Wade and similar to ones passed in other conservative states but then blocked in court.

The bill, signed into law by Republican Gov. Phil Bryant, bans abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected by ultrasound, which often can be after just six weeks.

Similar bills were signed into law in Kentucky earlier this month, in Iowa last year and in North Dakota in 2013. In each case, federal judges ruled them unconstitutional, citing the 1973 Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade, which legalized a woman's right to an abortion in all 50 states.

State lawmakers who sponsor the heartbeat bills are blunt in saying their goal is to challenge the Roe decision in hopes of getting it overturned.

Bolstered by the court's new conservative majority, the legislators say their strategy is to have court cases involving the restrictive state abortion laws work their way through the appeals process and eventually come before the highest court in the land.

"I think the point is to try to get a case before the U.S. Supreme Court in an effort to try to restrict abortion or overturn Roe v. Wade, and it's also designed to show the conservative base this governor and this conservative legislature will do anything to restrict abortion -- with an effort to ban it outright," said Joshua Tom, legal director with the ACLU of Mississippi, in a phone interview.

As the 2019 legislative session progresses, similarly restrictive bills have advanced in Tennessee, Missouri, Ohio and Georgia.

At the same time, Democratic-leaning states have pushed back, enacting bills that extend abortion protections. Bills that extend a woman's access to abortion through the third trimester were passed in New York and Virginia this year and are being considered in other states, including Vermont.

In Mississippi, the Center for Reproductive Rights, a nationwide abortion advocacy group, immediately promised to sue to stop the state's new abortion law.

"We'll see you in court Mississippi," the Center for Reproductive Rights tweeted.

Bryant welcomes the "threat of legal action," tweeting that it won't steer him away from the fight for "lives of innocent babies."

The state, which has only one abortion clinic, is no stranger to pushing abortion restrictions.

Last year, Mississippi passed a ban on abortions after 15 weeks, which a federal court later blocked. The ruling is being appealed to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which has seen an increase in conservative judges nominated by President Donald Trump.

This time, the state's ban goes further.

"The heartbeat bill that was just passed bans abortion at six weeks, which is even more restrictive than the bill banned last year," Joshua Tom said.

Though lawsuits are likely and would delay implementation, it's scheduled to go into effect in July.