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In fiery ruling, judge rejects Mississippi's harsh anti-abortion law

Mississippi passed one of the nation's harshest anti-abortion laws. A federal court struck it down as unconstitutional - which may have been part of the plan.
An exam room at the Whole Woman's Health clinic, in McAllen, Texas on March 4, 2014. (Photo by Jennifer Whitney/The New York Times/Redux)
An exam room at the Whole Woman's Health clinic, in McAllen, Texas on March 4, 2014.

The state of Mississippi is currently ranked last in the nation when it comes to unintended pregnancies. With this in mind, it's tempting to think state officials would want to invest some resources in addressing the problem.

Mississippi's Republican-led state government instead went in a very different direction earlier this year, approving one of the nation's harshest anti-abortion laws, which would, among other things, prohibit the termination of any pregnancy after 15 weeks. There are no exceptions for rape or incest.

State policymakers knew that the law would face an immediate legal challenge, which is precisely what happened, and yesterday, a federal judge issued a predictable ruling.

A federal judge on Tuesday struck down a Mississippi abortion law that bans most abortions after 15 weeks, one of the most restrictive in the United States.U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves ruled that the law "unequivocally" violates women's constitutional rights. "The record is clear: States may not ban abortions prior to viability," Reeves said, citing Supreme Court rulings. [...]Reeves wrote that "this Court concludes that the Mississippi Legislature's professed interest in 'women's health' is pure gaslighting."

The full ruling is online here (pdf).

It's worth emphasizing that the policy was never actually implemented: the same federal judge issued a temporary restraining order in March, the day after Gov. Phil Bryant (R) signed the measure into law, to prevent Mississippi from enforcing the law.

The state will no doubt appeal the ruling, and it's likely Mississippi Republicans are counting on the U.S. Supreme Court -- which now has a very conservative five-member majority -- to use this case or one like it to overturn Roe v. Wade.

Indeed, there was some reporting from March that suggested the Mississippi law was always intended to be a vehicle for the larger conservative cause.

Judge Reeves acknowledged this context in his decision, making clear he was unimpressed. "[T]he real reason we are here is simple," he wrote. "The state chose to pass a law it knew was unconstitutional to endorse a decades-long campaign, fueled by national interest groups, to ask the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade.

"This court follows the commands of the Supreme Court and the dictates of the United States Constitution, rather than the disingenuous calculations of the Mississippi legislature."