On Thursday, the Mississippi House passed a 20-week abortion ban without any exceptions for victims of rape and incest. The measure now moves to the GOP-controlled Senate. If the full legislature ends up approving the bill, Mississippi will be the 13th state to pass a 20-week abortion ban, although some of those state laws are currently being blocked from taking effect for violating the protections under Roe v. Wade.
But even if this latest threat to abortion access becomes law, it won’t have any impact on women in the state. It’s currently impossible to get an abortion after 20 weeks in Mississippi.
Thanks to lawmakers’ persistent attacks on reproductive freedom, Mississippi has just about every possible abortion restriction on the books, and the women who live there already struggle to exercise their right to choose. There’s only one abortion clinic left in the entire state, and it only performs abortions up to 16 weeks — so women who need later abortion care are already forced to travel to a different state.
“People in Mississippi need to be demanding why they’re considering legislation that has little impact on the state and is wasting taxpayer dollars,” the owner of Mississippi’s last abortion clinic, Diane Derzis, told Reuters. “This is grandstanding at its worst.”
But Gov. Phil Bryant (R), who recently reiterated his goal to put an end to all abortion in Mississippi, sees the legislation as an important symbol. “Another strong step for life in Mississippi as the House passes a ban on abortions after 20 weeks,” the governor wrote on his Facebook page after Thursday’s vote.
Indeed, 20-week abortion bans have become a big symbol in the anti-choice community’s effort to chip away at Roe v. Wade. Although 20 weeks is an arbitrary deadline that isn’t supported by any scientific logic, abortion opponents have seized on the opportunity to exploit public opinion about third-trimester procedures. They have positioned the 20-week ban as a logical, moderate policy — which allows them to construe anyone who opposes it as a radical who wants to allow doctors to dismember babies.
In reality, abortions after 20 weeks are already extremely rare, making up just 1.5 percent of all abortion procedures nationwide. The women who need later abortion care are simply individuals in dire circumstances. They typically fall into one of several categories: economically disadvantaged women who struggle to save up the money and get to a clinic, women who encounter health risks that make it unsafe to continue the pregnancy, and women who discover serious fetal abnormalities that weren’t evident earlier in the pregnancy. Imposing 20-week abortion bans doesn’t dramatically lower the abortion rate; it simply provides a convenient talking point for right-wing lawmakers, while unfairly targeting women in the most heartbreaking situations.
It’s not the first time that Mississippi lawmakers have wasted their time banning an abortion procedure that doesn’t even exist in the state. The state also has a preemptive ban on telemedicine abortion — the practice of allowing doctors to use video technology to remotely prescribe an abortion pill to women in rural areas — to block that type of program from ever getting off the ground.