Even if U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves were sympathetic to the pro-life movement, which he doesn’t appear to be, he would still have had no choice. Unless he wanted to be a renegade jurist, he had to reject Mississippi’s recent effort to outlaw abortion when a fetal heartbeat is detected.
When Reeves was sworn in to the federal bench, he agreed to faithfully apply the Constitution and laws of the United States, including existing Supreme Court interpretations of those laws, as long as the higher court’s decisions remain on the books.
In 1973, the Supreme Court said in Roe v. Wade that abortion cannot be prohibited by the states before a fetus can survive outside of a woman’s body. Although that “point of viability” is coming sooner as medical advances continue, it’s still considered to be in the latter part of the second trimester of a pregnancy.
Mississippi’s attempt to set the bar at roughly six weeks is outside that guideline. So was its earlier attempt, also blocked by Reeves, to put it at 15 weeks.
Every federal judge asked to rule on similar or even stricter abortion bans in other states has done or will most likely do the same as Reeves. Roe v. Wade dictates it.
The flaws in that 46-year-old decision are substantial. It created a woman’s right to privacy where none existed in the Constitution. It failed to take into consideration the rights of the unborn. It grounded its reasoning in the nebulous concept of “viability,” when the truth is that even at 40 weeks, a newborn child cannot survive without substantial human intervention, not only at that moment but for several years to come. Precisely because it was bad law, Roe v. Wade has not been accepted as legitimate by a large percentage of this nation.
But until that ruling is revised or repealed, federal judges at both the trial level and on the circuit courts of appeal are obligated to faithfully apply it. Only the Supreme Court can relieve them of that burden.