Mississippi senate passes the most restrictive abortion ban in the country

The bill would ban abortions after just 15 weeks.

Larry Gonzalez, 42, prays outside the sole clinic to offer abortions in Jackson, Mississippi. CREDITr: Esme E. Deprez/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Larry Gonzalez, 42, prays outside the sole clinic to offer abortions in Jackson, Mississippi. CREDITr: Esme E. Deprez/Bloomberg via Getty Images

On Tuesday, the Mississippi state senate passed a bill 35-14 that would ban abortions after just 15 weeks of pregnancy. The senate vote brings the state one step closer to enacting the most restrictive abortion ban in the country. Current state law prohibits the procedure 20 weeks after a woman’s last period. No other state has a 15-week restriction.

State lawmakers have previously argued that a 20-week ban was necessary in order to prevent fetal pain; by moving the ban to 15 weeks, the Mississippi legislature is making clear that this bill isn’t really about the fetus, but about a larger attack on Roe v. Wade.

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A 15-week ban is problematic for a variety of reasons. Evidence-based research disputes the notion of fetal pain; many people don’t know they’re pregnant for months; and the state already makes the procedure very arduous to obtain so when a person does decide to terminate their pregnancy, they could miss the legal deadline to do so.

This legislation would affect the state’s only abortion clinic, Jackson Women’s Health Organization. Clinic owner Diane Derzis told the Clarion Ledger that “(Gov.) Phil Bryant has never seen an abortion bill he didn’t like,” and fears the clinic will soon have to refer some women seeking abortions to out of state clinics.

“I’m not surprised,” Derzis said after the senate vote. “We will be planning to sue.”

If ultimately signed into law, the bill will likely be challenged in court. A 1992 Supreme Court decision upheld the right to abortions until a fetus is viable (viability is not a fixed medical term but generally occurs around 24 weeks). In 2014, the Supreme Court said it wouldn’t hear a case involving Arizona’s 20-week ban, deferring to a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision which struck down the law. A similar 20-week ban was also blocked in Idaho in 2015.

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Mississippi’s 20-week ban has not been challenged because the state’s one clinic only performs procedures up to 16 weeks.

All that stands between this bill becoming law is whether or not the state house of representatives accepts the changes made by the senate.

Senators removed criminal penalties from the bill’s language that would punish physicians performing the procedure after the 15-week ban. An amendment that would have made exceptions for victims of rape and incest, however, was rejected 16-33.

Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant (R) has said in the past that his “goal is to end abortions in Mississippi.” He told Mississippi Today that he would sign the new extreme abortion restriction bill into law when the house passed it earlier this month.