Mississippi Agriculture Commissioner Andy Gipson is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold the abortion restrictions he helped put into state law.
Gipson is a Republican and was a state representative and chairman of House Judiciary Committee B in 2018 when he co-sponsored a bill to ban most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. The Supreme Court’s ruling in a legal battle over this law could reshape access to abortion across the United States.
Mississippi law was never enforced because the state’s only abortion clinic quickly filed a lawsuit and a federal judge ruled the 15-week limit unconstitutional.
A conservative federal appeals court said in 2019 that the judge ruled correctly, and the United States Supreme Court agreed this year to consider the case. The arguments are scheduled for December 1.
The Mississippi case and a more recent fight against a Texas law that would ban most abortions at around six weeks are the first major tests of abortion rights in a reshuffled Supreme Court with three conservative justices appointed by the former President Donald Trump.
Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch filed written arguments asking judges to use the Mississippi case to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 High Court ruling that legalized abortion rights nationwide.
Hundreds of individuals and groups have filed briefs in the Supreme Court arguing for or against Mississippi law. Gipson, who is also a Baptist minister, filed a brief on July 29 arguing that Mississippi law does not impose an undue burden.
“For women who choose to continue with their pregnancy, Mississippi offers a number of resources to support them during childbirth and throughout the childrearing years,” Gipson lawyers wrote.
Its attorneys have written that Mississippi provides family planning services, prenatal health care, nutrition programs, child care, and education. They also wrote that the state facilitates foster care and adoption programs.
“In short, Mississippi strives to help any woman who needs the resources to care for a child, whether born or unborn,” Gipson’s lawyers wrote.
In a press release Wednesday, NARAL Pro-Choice America interim president Adrienne Kimmell called on Congress to enact federal law to protect abortion rights. She criticized Mississippi for asking the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade.
“With a qualified majority in the Supreme Court openly hostile to reproductive freedom, we are at a time of crisis – and the future of legal abortion is at stake,” Kimmell said. “No matter what twist the court’s anti-choice judges may use to avoid exposing their extremist agenda, the reality is that maintaining the abortion ban in Mississippi would overthrow Roe v. Wade.”
Mississippi’s only abortion clinic, Jackson Women’s Health Organization, remains open and offers abortions up to 16 weeks gestation. Clinic director Shannon Brewer said about 10% of her abortions are performed there after week 15.
More than 90% of abortions in the United States take place in the first 13 weeks of pregnancy, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Fitch was elected Attorney General of Mississippi in 2019 and took office in 2020. In addition to challenging Roe v. Wade, his written arguments to the Supreme Court challenge the 1992 court ruling in an abortion case in Pennsylvania. Both decisions stated that states cannot impose undue burdens on abortion before viability. The Mississippi attorney general’s office says the rulings are “grossly flawed.”
Viability occurs at around 24 weeks, when babies are most likely to survive outside the womb. The Mississippi clinic presented evidence that viability is impossible at 15 weeks.
The Mississippi attorney general argues that sustainability is an arbitrary standard that does not sufficiently reflect the state’s interest in regulating abortion.
Mississippi law would allow exceptions to the 15-week ban in the event of a medical emergency or severe fetal abnormality. Doctors found in violation of the ban would face a mandatory suspension or revocation of their medical license.