Last Monday, Mississippi Republican Gov. Phil Bryant signed a 15-week abortion ban into law. The very next day, a federal judge temporarily blocked the law, which offers no exceptions for incest or rape, from taking effect. U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves ruled in favor of Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which challenged the law and declared it in violation of Roe v. Wade.
A woman who was past 15 weeks pregnant was scheduled to have an abortion today at the clinic—the last standing in the state—and while Reeve’s ruling provides temporary relief for women in Mississippi, the fate of HB 1510, and the fates of those women’s reproductive lives, remains undecided.
Bryant tweeted Monday that he was “committed to making Mississippi the safest place in America for an unborn child.” He has previously declared his goal is “to end abortions in Mississippi.” But Mississippi, along with 17 other states, already has a ban on abortions at or past 18 weeks of pregnancy. There is only one abortion clinic in the state, and women there are forced to travel up to six hours round-trip to access abortion care. (Because there is a mandatory waiting period, women typically make that trip twice.) Objectively speaking, it’s one of the most dangerous states in the country to be a woman.
“There’s already numerous abortion restrictions in place, as well as logistical issues around being able to get into the one clinic in Mississippi, as well as the limitations placed on that clinic on to what point can they provide abortion services,” Elizabeth Nash, senior state issues manager at Guttmacher Institute, told Refinery29 earlier this month. “We’ve already seen access extremely curtailed in Mississippi. This ban would have an additional impact should it go into effect.”
Abortion bans in any form undermine women’s autonomy and the expertise of doctors, but this 15-week ban is exceptional in its cruelty and ignorance. Abortions between 14 and 20 weeks are extremely rare—just nine percent of abortions happen after the first trimester—and they often happen due to circumstances women simply can’t control, such as serious health complications affecting the woman, the fetus or both. Sometimes, late-term abortions can even be caused by state policies—when laws shut down abortion clinics or implement other restrictions that delay the procedure, there tends to be an increase in abortions later in pregnancy. One year after an omnibus anti-abortion law took hold in Texas, the rate of second-trimester abortions in the state rose by 27 percent. Within three years, more than half of the state’s 41 clinics had closed.
“In Mississippi we have no money for roads and bridges, we have no money for Medicaid, we have no money for schools,” said Felicia Brown-Williams, Mississippi state director for Planned Parenthood Southeast. “The fact that legislators are choosing very intentionally to focus on this issue… that will suck up state resources is irresponsible and unconscionable.”
Despite an exception for endangerment to the mother’s health, HB 1510 places women in substantial danger, as bans and restrictions on abortion don’t end the practice, but limit its safety. Research has repeatedly shown that abortions continue to happen at the same rate even in the face of heavy restrictions, but will often involve an increase in back-alley procedures and attempts at self-termination.
The high costs of travel to have an abortion out of state and a lack of access in-state fuel these dangerous outcomes—and with a ban at 15 weeks, the costs to women’s lives will be even more substantial, and the women most effected will inevitably be those with the least means. “This will absolutely disproportionately impact low-income women and women of color,” said Brown-Williams. “Women with financial means will always have access to abortion. They’ll be able to travel to another place to receive services.”
Abortion restrictions are often crafted less with the goal of ending abortion and moreso with the intent to criminalize and stigmatize it into the shadows. As women in Mississippi, and across the country, wait on the final word on HB 1510, we cannot lower our voices.