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Mississippi's controversial six-week abortion ban struck down by federal judge panel

Mississippi's controversial "fetal heartbeat" ban, an effective six-week ban on abortion, was just struck down by a federal judge, according to a spokesperson for the Center for Reproductive Rights, the law firm that challenged the state law.

A three-judge panel of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its decision Thursday afternoon, writing, "[A]ll agree that cardiac activity can be detected well before the fetus is viable. That dooms the law. If a ban on abortion after 15 weeks is unconstitutional, then it follows that a ban on abortion at an earlier stage of pregnancy is also unconstitutional."

Thursday's decision temporarily will block the law from going into effect, upholding a lower court's decision from May 2019. In December, the Fifth Circuit also struck down a 15-week abortion ban passed by Mississippi.

"A ban at six weeks of pregnancy means many of our patients would lose their right to have an abortion before they even know they're pregnant," said Shannon Brewer, director of Jackson Women's Health Organization, the state's only abortion provider. "Most of our patients are past that point. Some have spent weeks saving money for the procedure and have driven hundreds of miles to reach us."

Mississippi is one of seven states that passed an abortion ban in 2019, all aimed at providing a legal challenge to Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that legalized the procedure in 1973. Four other states — Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana and Ohio — passed their own so-called "fetal heartbeat" bills, while Missouri put forward an omnibus anti-abortion bill that includes an eight-week ban on abortion. 

In Alabama, Governor Kay Ivey signed into law the most restrictive anti-abortion bill of all: a near-total ban on the procedure with no exceptions for rape or incest. 

All have been blocked by federal judges from going into effect.

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