Lawsuit: Mississippi abortion ban might not be valid yet

Nov 14, 2022, 12:41 PM | Updated: 3:10 pm
FILE - A bouquet of roses are left by the front gate to the Jackson Women's Health Organization cli...

FILE - A bouquet of roses are left by the front gate to the Jackson Women's Health Organization clinic in Jackson, Miss., July 8, 2022. A group of anti-abortion doctors in Mississippi, where state leaders led the charge to overturn Roe v. Wade, say the validity of the state's law banning most abortions remains uncertain. In a lawsuit filed Monday, Nov. 14, 2022 in the Chancery Court of Hinds County, the doctors argue that another legal victory is required to enshrine the ban and protect them from punishment by medical institutions. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis, file)

(AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis, file)

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — A group of anti-abortion doctors in Mississippi, where state leaders led the charge to overturn Roe v. Wade, say the validity of the state’s law banning most abortions remains uncertain and that further legal action is needed to clarify it and protect them from possible punishment by medical institutions.

The Mississippi Justice Institute makes the claim in a lawsuit it filed Monday on behalf of the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists against the Mississippi State Board of Medical Licensure and its executive director, Dr. Kenneth Cleveland.

The lawsuit argues that when the U.S. Supreme Court issued its ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the case that stripped away women’s constitutional protections for abortion, it did not resolve a gray area in state law surrounding abortion rights. Attorneys for the doctors cited a 1998 Mississippi Supreme Court opinion called Pro-Choice Mississippi v. Fordice that holds that abortion is a right protected by the Mississippi Constitution.

“After Roe was overturned, Mississippi enacted a ban on elective abortions, but the validity of that law is uncertain, given the Mississippi Supreme Court’s opinion in Fordice,” reads a Mississippi Justice Institute news release. “As of today, elective abortions in Mississippi appear to be both statutorily illegal and constitutionally protected at the same time.”

Some Mississippi doctors who oppose abortion say the legal uncertainty has placed them in a “Catch-22.” They argue that medical institutions and board certification authorities have issued guidelines suggesting that it is “unethical, and potentially punishable by the government, for physicians who oppose elective abortion to refuse to provide or refer patients” to other doctors for lawful elective abortions. The question of whether elective abortions are “lawful” is unresolved and depends on whether the Mississippi Supreme Court’s opinion in Fordice is still valid, according to the doctors’ attorneys.

Dr. Donna Harrison, the CEO of the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists, said that institutions such as the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology and the American Medical Association have “continuously sought to violate the conscience rights of pro-life physicians by forcing them to provide or refer patients for elective abortions.”

The organizations did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Cleveland, the head of the medical licensing board, couldn’t immediately be reached.

“Rather than focusing on their missions of upholding medical standards, professional medical organizations have sought for years to advocate for pro-abortion political positions,” Harrison told The Associated Press. “We hope to finally put an end to those intimidation tactics.”

Leaders of the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology, which provides certification to doctors in the field, have said in the past that they do not expect doctors to violate their moral beliefs. But the anti-abortion doctors in this case say those assurances haven’t been firm enough.

In Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the Mississippi attorney general’s office argued that the 1998 state supreme court ruling that abortion is a constitutionally protected right relied on the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision that was overturned June 24.

In a last-ditch attempt to keep the clinic open, attorneys for the Jackson Women’s Health Organization made a request to block the state’s trigger law from taking effect. They cited Fordice, arguing that the state constitution invokes a right to privacy that “includes an implied right to choose whether or not to have an abortion.” In her brief, Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch wrote that after Roe’s reversal, “to the extent that Fordice recognized a right to abortion, it is no longer good law.”

On July 5, a state court judge rejected the clinic’s request to block the trigger law. Two days later, most abortions in the state were banned under the law. The clinic formally dropped all its litigation efforts a day after clinic owner Diane Derzis told the AP that she sold the facility and had no intention to reopen it, even if a state court allowed her to do so.

Rob McDuff, an attorney for Mississippi Center of Justice, represented the Jackson clinic in a number of cases, including the Dobbs case. Reached for comment Monday shortly after the lawsuit was filed, he said he was weighing legal options.

“We are going to review this new lawsuit and consider whether it is appropriate for us to seek to intervene,” McDuff said.

The trigger law, passed in 2007, says abortion is legal only if the pregnant woman’s life is in danger or if a pregnancy is caused by a rape reported to law enforcement. It does not have an exception for pregnancies caused by incest. But the validity of the law is uncertain because the Mississippi Supreme Court has not had the opportunity to overrule the 1998 Fordice decision, according to the Mississippi Justice Institute.

A spokesperson for Fitch said the office is reviewing the suit but does not comment on active litigation.

Aaron Rice, executive director of the Mississippi Justice Institute, said this case is the final leg of the anti-abortion movement’s legal march toward securing its ban on the procedure. He expects the case will be decided by the Mississippi Supreme Court.

“We intend to finish the job and protect the right to life in the state that took down Roe v. Wade,” Rice said.


Michael Goldberg is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. Follow him on Twitter at

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Associated Press

Small plane caught in power lines after crash, passengers OK

GAITHERSBURG, Md. (AP) — A small plane carrying at least two people got stuck in live power lines Sunday evening in Maryland, causing widespread power outages in the surrounding county as officials tried to extricate the aircraft. The Federal Aviation Administration said in a statement that the single-engine plane, which had departed White Plains, N.Y., […]
18 hours ago
This combination of photos provided by the Chesapeake, Va., Police Department shows top row from le...
Associated Press

Walmart shooting claims teen, young woman, father, mother

CHESAPEAKE, Va. (AP) — A 16-year-old helping his family. A custodian and father of two. A mother with wedding plans. A happy-go-lucky guy. A longtime employee. That’s how friends and family described some of the six people killed at a Walmart in Chesapeake, Virginia, when a manager opened fire with a handgun before an employee […]
18 hours ago
FILE - Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. walks on the sideline during a NFL division...
Associated Press

NFL free agent Odell Beckham Jr. taken off plane in Miami

MIAMI (AP) — NFL free agent Odell Beckham Jr. was removed by police from an aircraft before takeoff at Miami International Airport after officials said he failed to respond to requests to buckle his seatbelt and appeared to be unconscious, police and airline officials said Sunday. “Fearing that Mr. Beckham was seriously ill, and that […]
18 hours ago
FILE - Chickens walk in a fenced pasture at an organic farm in Iowa on Oct. 21, 2015. Nebraska agri...
Associated Press

Bird flu prompts slaughter of 1.8M chickens in Nebraska

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Nebraska agriculture officials say another 1.8 million chickens must be killed after bird flu was found on a farm in the latest sign that the outbreak that has already prompted the slaughter of more than 50 million birds nationwide continues to spread. The Nebraska Department of Agriculture said Saturday that the […]
18 hours ago
This photo provided by the U.S. Navy shows U.S. Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Thomas James in Centur...
Associated Press

Colorado shooting victim ‘wanted to save the family I found’

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) — A member of the U.S. Navy who was injured while helping prevent further harm during a shooting at a gay nightclub in Colorado last weekend said Sunday that he “simply wanted to save the family that I found.” Petty Officer 2nd Class Thomas James made his first public comments on […]
18 hours ago
FILE - Director Quentin Tarantino, left, poses with Friars Club Dean Freddie Roman at the Quentin T...
Associated Press

Borscht Belt comedian Freddie Roman dies at age 85

Comedian Freddie Roman, the former dean of The Friars Club and a staple of the Catskills comedy scene, has died. He was 85. Roman died Saturday afternoon at Bethesda Hospital in Boynton Beach, Florida, his booking agent and friend Alison Chaplin said Sunday. His daughter told the entertainment trade Deadline that he suffered a heart […]
18 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

Quantum Fiber

How high-speed fiber internet can improve everyday life

Quantum Fiber supplies unlimited data with speeds up to 940 mbps, enough to share 4K videos with coworkers 20 times faster than a cable.
Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Here are 4 signs the HVAC unit needs to be replaced

Pool renovations and kitchen upgrades may seem enticing, but at the forefront of these investments arguably should be what residents use the most. In a state where summertime is sweltering, access to a functioning HVAC unit can be critical.
Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Ways to prevent clogged drains and what to do if you’re too late

While there are a variety of ways to prevent clogged drains, it's equally as important to know what to do when you're already too late.
Lawsuit: Mississippi abortion ban might not be valid yet