Court battles continue across the US South in the wake of the Roe decision


Lawyers discussed abortion laws Tuesday in three southern states in response to the US Supreme Court ruling that gave states the power to limit or ban the termination of pregnancies.

In Mississippi, a judge held a hearing but did not say how or when he would rule on a lawsuit brought by the state’s only abortion clinic, which is trying to stay open by blocking a law that would ban most abortions in the state.

The law will take effect on Thursday. Lawmakers approved it before the US Supreme Court recently overturned the 1973 ruling that allowed abortions nationwide.

The clinic, Jackson Women’s Health Organization, is seeking a temporary restraining order that would allow it to remain open, at least while the lawsuit is in court.

The closely watched lawsuit is part of a flurry of activity across the country since the Supreme Court ruled. Conservative states have moved to stop or limit abortions, while others have sought to guarantee abortion rights, all as some women try to obtain the medical procedure in a changing legal landscape.

Florida’s new 15-week abortion ban was blocked but then quickly reinstated Tuesday, following an appeal by the state attorney general in a lawsuit challenging the restriction. Judge John C. Cooper issued the order to temporarily suspend the law after reproductive health providers argued that the state constitution guarantees a right to the procedure. The state quickly appealed his order, automatically reinstating the law.

Florida law prohibits abortions after 15 weeks, with exceptions if the procedure is necessary to save the pregnant woman’s life, prevent serious injury, or if the fetus has a life-threatening abnormality. It does not allow exemptions for pregnancies caused by rape, incest, or human trafficking.

Violators could face up to five years in prison. Doctors and other medical professionals could lose their licenses and face administrative fines of $10,000 for each violation. The law, which took effect Friday, was approved by the GOP-controlled Legislature and signed by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis this spring.

In Louisiana, the state attorney general has asked the state Supreme Court to allow enforcement of the ban on most abortions. Louisiana’s anti-abortion statutes include so-called triggers that were designed to take effect instantly if the US Supreme Court overturned abortion rights. But last week, a state judge in New Orleans blocked enforcement of the law pending a court hearing on a lawsuit brought by a northern Louisiana abortion clinic and others.

The Louisiana lawsuit says the law is unclear about when the ban goes into effect and about medical exceptions to the ban. Tuesday’s filing from the attorney general’s office says the order blocking the execution should be dissolved.

In Mississippi, if Chancery Judge Debbra K. Halford grants the clinic’s request to block the new state law from taking effect, the decision could be quickly appealed to the state Supreme Court. Halford presided over a hearing without issuing a court decision.

Mississippi was one of several states with a “trigger” law contingent on the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade. The law was passed in 2007 and has never been challenged in court. It says abortion will be legal only if the pregnant woman’s life is in danger or if the pregnancy is caused by rape reported to the police. You have no exception for pregnancies caused by incest.

The clinic’s lawsuit cites a 1998 Mississippi Supreme Court ruling that said the state constitution invokes a right to privacy that “includes the implied right to choose whether or not to have an abortion.”

The state attorney general’s office argued that the 1998 ruling was based on US Supreme Court decisions in 1973 and 1992 that established or protected the right to abortion, but were overturned on June 24. But Rob McDuff, an attorney for the clinic, argued that the state judges never said their ruling was made because of the federal Constitution.

“They never said it would evaporate if Roe ever got overturned,” McDuff said in court Tuesday.

The state attorney general’s office said the Mississippi Constitution does not recognize the right to an abortion and that the state has a long history of restricting the procedure.

“In the last two weeks, the state of the law has changed dramatically,” state Attorney General Scott Stewart argued in court Tuesday.

The suit was filed three days after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in a case that originated in Mississippi. The clinic has continued to receive patients, but owner Diane Derzis said it will close if the near-ban on abortions goes into effect.

Outside the courthouse Tuesday in Mississippi’s capital city, several women held signs supporting abortion rights as two men took turns using a microphone to tell abortion rights advocates that God would punish them for eternity.

“You are bloodthirsty. Bloodthirsty, abominable filth in the sight of God,” said one of the anti-abortion protesters, Allen Siders. “Consider your ways today, sinners. Consider your ways today. What a shame!”

An abortion rights supporter performed an impromptu dance in front of Siders to taunt him and several women laughed.


Anthony Izaguirre reported from Tallahassee, Florida, and Kevin McGill reported from New Orleans.

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