Mississippi House passes most restrictive abortion law in the U.S.

Gov. Phil Bryant, who said it was his goal to "end abortions in Mississippi," is finally getting his wish.

State Capitol of Mississippi, Jackson CREDIT: Photo by Visions of America/UIG via Getty Images
State Capitol of Mississippi, Jackson CREDIT: Photo by Visions of America/UIG via Getty Images

The Mississippi House of Representatives passed a stringent 15-week abortion ban on Thursday, concurrent with International Women’s Day. The ban, the most restrictive anti-abortion law in the country at the moment, passed the House by a vote of 75-34.

The bill now goes to Gov. Phil Bryant (R), who has committed to signing it. It’s a big step for Bryant, who said in 2014 that his goal was “to end abortions in Mississippi,” which the 15-week ban will functionally do.

Lawmakers argued that “women start to gain weight and feel movement during the third month of pregnancy,” and that 15 weeks gives people plenty of time to “decide whether you’re going to carry that child or not.” But many people don’t even know they’re pregnant at 15 weeks, and the state already makes obtaining an abortion a long process, so a 15-week ban would mean that many women would have little to no time to make a decision before being forced past the legal deadline.

The state already bans abortion after 20 weeks, something lawmakers in Mississippi have previously argued is necessary, pointing to junk “fetal pain” science. The 15-week ban is nothing more than another attack on the few abortion rights that many have left.

The bill makes an exception for cases of fetal abnormality or medical emergency, but an amendment that would have also made exceptions for victims of rape or incest was voted down in the Senate 16-33.

Mississippi has just one abortion clinic, Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which has only provided abortions through 16 weeks. The clinic’s owner, Diane Derzis, told local media that they plan to sue and fears the clinic will now have to refer people to out-of-state providers.

“I’m not surprised. We will be planning to sue,” Derzis told the Clarion Ledger after the Senate passed the bill earlier this week. “Phil Bryant has never seen an abortion bill he didn’t like.”

Court precedent is not in the bill’s favor, of course. A 1992 Supreme Court decision upheld the right to an abortion until fetal viability, which is not a fixed medical term but generally falls around 24 weeks. Additionally, in 2014, the court declined to hear a case involving Arizona’s 20-week ban, deferring to an appeals court decision striking down the law. Idaho’s 20-week ban was blocked in 2015.

Harsher bans have met similar ends, including a 6-week ban in North Dakota that was struck down by the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2015, and a 12-week ban in Arkansas that was rejected by the Supreme Court in 2016.