Mississippi may ban abortion after first heartbeat

Published 10:39 pm Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Mississippi lawmakers are considering what could become one of the strictest abortion laws in the country. Bills that passed legislative committees Tuesday would ban abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected, as early as six weeks into a pregnancy.

Republican Gov. Phil Bryant has said he will sign either House Bill 732 or Senate Bill 2116 , which are moving to the full House and Senate for more work. Supporters and opponents anticipate a court fight.

An Iowa judge struck down a similar law there last month.

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Several states could consider tighter abortion restrictions to get a challenge up to the more conservative U.S. Supreme Court to try to overturn the 1973 ruling that legalized abortion nationwide.

Mississippi has some of the tightest abortion laws in the U.S., with a 24-hour waiting period and parental consent for minors required, with some exceptions. The state last year enacted a law banning abortion after 15 weeks, and a federal judge declared it unconstitutional.

In his November decision, U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves cited Supreme Court rulings and wrote that states may not ban abortions before viability. He wrote that viability must be determined by trained medical professionals, and the “established medical consensus” is that viability typically begins at 23 to 24 weeks after the pregnant woman’s last menstrual period. The state is asking an appeals court to overturn the ruling.

During a Senate Public Health Committee meeting Tuesday, Democratic Sen. John Horhn of Jackson objected to the heartbeat bill and took note of Reeves’ ruling about the 15-week ban. The committee chairman, Republican Sen. Joey Fillingane of Sumrall, replied that under “one district federal court judge appointed by President Obama, it was declared to be unconstitutional.”

Horhn asked whether it matters which president appointed the federal judge, and Fillingane responded that the nation’s highest court has become more conservative.

“I don’t think the other states are sitting around waiting to determine what our Supreme Court in its current composition is going to do,” Fillingane said.

Fillingane, who is white, also told Horhn, who is black, that more than 80 percent of the abortions done in Mississippi are for African-American women. He also quoted a hymn.

“I believe, ‘Red, yellow, black and white, they’re all precious in his sight,'” Fillingane said. “And so that’s why we’re bringing this bill to the floor.”

Horhn responded: “If they’re all precious in his sight, why are you bringing up that demographic statistic?”

Fillingane said he brought it up so committee members would be aware of what they were voting on. The bill would still allow abortions if a pregnancy endangers a woman’s life or one of her major bodily functions.

Democratic Sen. David Blount of Jackson said he has voted for some abortion restrictions in the past but opposed the 15-week ban last year because he believed it to be unconstitutional and will oppose the fetal heartbeat bill for the same reason.

“Again and again we’ve been told that we should pass legislation, and again and again it’s found to be unconstitutional,” Blount said.

This is election year in Mississippi. Although Bryant cannot seek a third term as governor, most lawmakers are seeking another four years in office.