A woman's right to choose remains under constant attack, but in Mississippi the action of one court just took a bold stand to affirm it.
The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday against a law that would have shut down Mississippi's only remaining abortion clinic, effectively defending the Supreme Court's landmark Roe v. Wade ruling in the process. Had the court ruled otherwise, the situation in the state would've become even more dire for women in need of reproductive healthcare services such as abortions, forcing many to leave Mississippi for the procedure.
In the 2-1 ruling, the federal appeals court's majority opinion affirmed abortion rights. "Pre-viability, a woman has the constitutional right to end her pregnancy by abortion," the judges noted in their decision. "H.B. 1390 effectively extinguishes that right within Mississippi's borders."
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The 2012 law required that the clinic in question, the Jackson Women's Health Organization, get clearance for patient admission via a local hospital. But the stipulation functioned as a procedural hurdle that was instead created with intention to prevent the clinic from being able to perform abortions. Physicians at the clinic indeed applied for the privileges at hospitals in the Jackson, Miss., area, but weren't able to get them.
The decision comes just weeks after the Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling in favor of Hobby Lobby, upholding an employer's ability to deny reproductive healthcare coverage if there are conscientious or religious objections to procedures such as abortions. The social and political aftermath of the decision still bears close scrutiny, and many observers even note that it's already having an impact on other areas of civic life, including LGBT employment discrimination.
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According to analysis from SCOTUSblog, a reputable non-partisan observer of court decisions nationwide, the Mississippi decision "clearly limits" but doesn't completely bar a state's attempt to shift its residents' abortion services needs to nearby states. In fact, Mississippi argued in the case that residents seeking the procedure could go elsewhere to have it done.
Although the decision is closely related to Roe v. Wade, the court's rationale centered on the Supreme Court's 1938 ruling in in Missouri ex rel. Gaines v. Canada.
"In that case, the university told a black student seeking admission that he could get tuition support from the state to go to a law school in another state. That precedent, the Fifth Circuit majority said in the new abortion regulation case, stands for the proposition that 'a state cannot lean on its sovereign neighbors to provide protection of its citizens' federal constitutional rights.' That principle, it added, 'obviously has trenchant relevance here,'" wrote Lyle Denniston for SCOTUSblog.
In an environment where abortion rights are constantly being challenged by new state laws, court rulings and a swath of activism seeking to undermine a woman's right to choose, it's a miracle that Mississippi's last remaining abortion provider is still open today. But the battle is far from over.