Mississippi is perilously close to passing a big crackdown on reproductive rights

Local lawmakers are looking to ban virtually all abortions.

Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant (L) looks on during a meeting of the National Governors Association at the White House in Washington, DC, February 23, 2015.  (CREDIT: JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant (L) looks on during a meeting of the National Governors Association at the White House in Washington, DC, February 23, 2015. (CREDIT: JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)

Mississippi is inching closer to enacting one of the country’s most restrictive reproductive health laws.

On Tuesday, a state Senate committee passed House Bill 1510, which bans abortion procedures after 15 weeks gestation. The bill makes an exception for cases of fetal abnormality or medical emergencies but not for rape or incest. This measure heads next to a full Senate vote, which could happen as soon as next week.

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Gov. Phil Bryant (R) — who previously said his “goal is to end abortions in Mississippi” — told Mississippi Today he would sign this bill into law when the House passed it earlier this month.

Mississippi ties with North Carolina as having the most restrictive abortion law nationwide, as it already bans the procedure 20 weeks after a person’s last menstrual period. Now, state lawmakers are trying to rationalize banning the procedure even earlier.

Author of House Bill 1510 Rep. Becky Currie (R) and her colleague Rep. Andy Gipson (R) rationalized a 15-week ban on the basis that “women start to gain weight and feel movement during the third month of pregnancy,” according to the Clarion Ledger. Currie, who is also a registered nurse, said 15 weeks gives people plenty of time “to decide whether you’re going to carry that child or not.”

State lawmakers previously argued that a 20-week ban was necessary in order to prevent fetal pain. Now moving the ban to 15 weeks is clear proof that this bill isn’t really about the fetus, but about a larger attack on Roe v. WadeEvidence-based research also shows a fetus is unlikely to feel pain until at least 27 weeks; many people don’t know they’re pregnant for months; and the state makes the procedure very arduous to get already so when a person does decide to terminate the pregnancy, they could miss the legal deadline to do so.

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If passed, the Mississippi law will likely be challenged in court. A 1992 Supreme Court decision upheld the right to abortions until a fetus is viable, which is at least 22 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. No one’s challenged Mississippi’s 20-week ban.

Bryant clearly states the conservative mission, which is to end legal abortion — leaving no room for doubt that the bill is meant to do anything but discourage abortion. Vice President Mike Pence expressed a similar goal on Tuesday and said he’s confident that abortion will end “in our time.” (Of course, even if outlawed, the procedure will continue just as it had before Roe v. Wade, albeit it’ll be more dangerous.)

“If all of us do all we can, we can once again, in our time, restore the sanctity of life to the center of American law,” Pence said at the Susan B. Anthony List & Life Institute. And in Mississippi this could be true.

Mississippi’s bill is part of a larger nationwide trend of anti-choice bills being pushed in state legislature this year.