Jackson Women’s Health, which was the state’s only abortion clinic before it was forced to close Thursday, is asking the Mississippi Supreme Court to allow it to reopen next week.
The request is based on a 1998 state Supreme Court decision that said the Mississippi Constitution gives women the right to an abortion. That decision has not been overturned and in most cases supersedes laws passed by the Legislature that prohibit abortions, abortion clinic attorneys say.
It comes on the heels of a petition filed Thursday in the Supreme Court Franklin County Chancery Judge Debra Halford’s ruling on Tuesday denying a petition for a temporary restraining order allowing the clinic to remain open.
In a statement to the Supreme Court, Halford opened Tuesday’s hearing with a prayer by a specially appointed chaplain: “Lord, we pray for the presence of Your Holy Spirit in this courtroom today … We seek Your truth, not our own. We seek your wisdom, not our own. Bless and inspire Judge Halford in her deliberations and judgment here today.”
Abortion rights advocates are asking the court to suspend the two laws. Mississippi has a trigger law that came into effect following a landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling in late June overturning Roe v. Wade, which recognized abortion rights in the U.S. Constitution.
Another law in Mississippi, banning abortions after six weeks, also went into effect as a result of Roe’s overturn.
“We hope the Mississippi Supreme Court will uphold its previous ruling that the Mississippi Constitution protects women’s rights to make their own decisions about childbearing. But, unfortunately, we live in a time when established norms of law are thrown aside. We hope that doesn’t happen here,” said Jackson attorney Rob McDuff of the Mississippi Justice Center, which represents the clinic. The clinic is also represented by the Center for Reproductive Rights.
McDuff argued before Halford that the laws would be trumped by a 1998 state Supreme Court decision that said abortion rights are protected by the Mississippi Constitution. Only the state Supreme Court could overturn that opinion, just as only the U.S. Supreme Court could overturn Roe, McDuff argued Tuesday before Halford.
Halford rejected McDuff’s arguments, declining to issue a temporary restraining order because she said it was likely the state Supreme Court would overturn the 1998 ruling.
In a filing with the Supreme Court, the clinic said Halford “abused her discretion” by basing her decision on what she thought the Supreme Court would do.
“Such reasoning is inconsistent with the rule of law and this court’s authority to have the final say on the meaning of the Mississippi Constitution,” the statement said.
Attorney General Lynn Fitch’s office opposed the suspension of the trigger law and the six-week ban. Fitch also filed a lawsuit — Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health — that resulted in the court overturning Roe v. Wade.
Fitch’s office argued before Halford that the state’s highest court’s 1998 decision was based on Roe being national law. Now that Roe has been overturned, the state Supreme Court’s 1998 ruling is no longer good law. But McDuff noted that nowhere in the 1998 ruling was such a connection made.
The initiative law bans all abortions, except in cases where the mother’s life is in danger or in cases of rape reported to law enforcement. Another law prohibits abortion after six weeks, except in medical emergencies.
“We are simply asking the MS Supreme Court to uphold its ruling. It would be a mistake to overturn decades of precedent and allow government and politics to take away a woman’s right to make health decisions that directly affect her life,” said Vangela Wade, Chief Executive Officer of the Mississippi Justice Center.
Vangela Wade is a board member of Mississippi Today.