It’s easy to stay on principle when you disagree with an outcome. It’s much harder to do when the result is desirable, but the means to get there are not.
That’s the dilemma we face with a state judge’s ruling last week that allowed Mississippi’s near-total abortion ban to go into effect.
Franklin County Chancery Judge Debbra Halford was in trouble. Mississippi had just taken a case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court that resulted in the historic overturning of Roe v. Wade and legitimately returned to states the power to decide whether or not to allow abortion and under what conditions. It was speculated that in Mississippi, the move would lead to an almost immediate end to surgical abortions and the closing of the state’s only abortion clinic.
There was one problem, though: a 1998 state Supreme Court ruling that said the Mississippi Constitution gave women the right to an abortion. The operator of the only abortion clinic suspended its argument and its attempt to remain open to this decision, saying that subsequent state laws – which came into effect following the Supreme Court ruling. United States last month – were invalid as long as that 1998 ruling remained on the books.
Halford disagreed, saying it was likely the state Supreme Court would overturn, just as the United States Supreme Court did 49 years after Roe v. Wade.
Halford might possess the power to read people’s minds, but if so, she should limit her exercise of this gift to board games, not use it in the courtroom. The current makeup of the Mississippi Supreme Court may well believe that its 1998 ruling was bad law, but if so, the justices should be the ones saying so, not a lower court judge.
Halford probably knew her decision would be appealed to the state Supreme Court anyway, and the safest thing for her to do politically was to speak out against the abortion clinic. However, this appears to be an abuse of the judge’s discretion. Lower court judges are supposed to apply what the appellate courts have said, not what they might say.
As eager as we are to reduce the number of abortions in this state and save the lives of unborn children, it must be done through the right means.
If there is no right to privacy, and therefore no right to abortion, in the Mississippi Constitution, the State Supreme Court must reverse itself and say so. If such a right exists in state law, then the legislature can go through the proper legal channels to remove it by placing a constitutional amendment before a vote of the people.
It may take longer than reading a judge’s mind, but the result will be through a legal process that is respected, rather than one that is not.