Mississippi woman who wrote abortion law that changed nation says state leaders must pass reforms to help women or ‘get out of the way’

Published 5:52 am Saturday, June 25, 2022

By Anna Wolfe

Mississippi Today 

Becky Currie wrote the Mississippi law that changed the nation.

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Currie, a lawmaker, nurse, mom and devout Christian from Brookhaven, said she was “as happy as I can be” Friday, nearly five years after she began writing legislation to outlaw abortion after 15 weeks.

Now, a 50-year-old U.S. Supreme Court precedent giving women the right to abortion is dead. The procedure will be illegal in Mississippi. As for Currie, she said the work has only begun.

Currie, 65, will run for another four years in the Legislature, where she said she plans to fight against a hostile, patriarchal state leadership in order to advance policies that allow women to thrive.

Mississippians have little reason to believe Currie will be successful, she concedes.

“I don’t have faith in the system. Because I have watched it fail time, after time, after time,” she said. “But I can tell you, my next four years, I’m gonna be hell on wheels.”

Mississippi Today spoke with Currie on Friday after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. Below is a condensed version of the conversation, edited for length and clarity.

Mississippi Today: Give me a little more of your feel today, being the author of this bill and then seeing this come to fruition.

Currie: Well, you know, we started writing this bill in 2017. It became law in 2018 and then it was immediately overturned, and I went about my regular life for a few years until I heard that it was going before the Supreme Court. You know, for the first time in my lifetime, I felt that there was a chance. That we had some conservative justices on the court, and that we had an opportunity that maybe this could actually be overturned.

Just the fact that they agreed to hear the case was a positive sign, because we hadn’t even had that happen in 50 years. So my hopes were up. You know, I am a Christian and I don’t believe that murder is the answer. And so, I’m very excited about this bill and I know that our work is just beginning.

I’m well aware that we can’t take away this right, and then say, “And good luck to everybody,” and turn around and walk away. And for me, this past legislative session, the work began. When I realized that this could come to fruition, that we had to be there for women.

I got with Rep. Angela Cockerham and together, she and I did the equal pay. And we went to the Speaker and said, “We’re gonna do this.” You know, it had been tried again and again by others to get the equal pay bill done. We let him know, you know, we need to be behind women. And this has got to be done, so we can make sure that these women that are going to have children are paid equally. And it’s a shame that Mississippi was last in the nation to do that, but we got that done. I worked very diligently with other members and talked with the Speaker about increasing the funds for the Children Advocacy Centers. They lost a lot of federal funding this year and they are in desperate need. We met some of those needs, but I will be honest, it was not satisfactory to me. These agencies are the ones that take care of our children, now, that have been abused or neglected or need help. The court systems use them and we failed them by not making sure that funding was where it needed to be this year.

It is imperative that we do that in the upcoming session.

We are in a wonderful position. Our economics are good. Our rainy-day fund is good, but we failed to see some of the problems that we were gonna cause when we decreased the State Health Department budget. And I’m gonna fight and I’m asking other leaders to help me. We have got to make sure that our state health departments are open in every county and that at least one day a week, a nurse practitioner is there to write prescriptions and hand out birth control.

There’s no way that we can take this away — and I’m 100% pro-life — but I want every woman to not feel that they cannot receive birth control.

They need to be able to. Most people, because we don’t expand Medicaid, most people don’t have the money to go to the doctor once a year. They don’t have the money to buy the prescription. And right now, with the economy, and inflation the way it is, there is no way they could go to the doctor and get a prescription to take monthly birth control.

And we, as a people, have to provide that service so we don’t have unwanted and more abused children. We have to make sure that if women want jobs, that we pay them equally, and that we make it a workforce development monies, ‘cause we spend so much on it, that it is making sure that women are getting jobs and having a career so they can raise these children.

MT: We don’t have a good track record of supporting women. And we don’t have a good track record of funding public programs to help low-income people. So how do you commit to me, as a Mississippi taxpayer, that you’re going to do that? How can I trust that you’re going to do that?

Currie: Well, I can tell you that I’m a nurse. And I am a mother and a grandmother.  … I have mostly been a single mother all of my life. And I know how hard it is to raise children. And I know how hard it is to go to work and be the mom and the dad and take care of children by yourself.

I completely have lived that. And I also know that society doesn’t help you. And I struggled to go through nursing school to take care of my children and thank God I did. And thank God my parents helped me during that time, or I wouldn’t have made it. But I understand more than you think how hard it is and, and how much it takes. And look, that was in the 70’s for me, that I was a single mother, so I can tell you it would be much scarier now. I understand that people are struggling day to day to put food on the table and to take medicines and put gas in their car. I understand it’s worse now than it’s ever been.

All I can tell you is that I will not rest until we have places for women to go. And, you know, we’re gonna have to, whether we like it or not, there’s gonna be unwanted pregnancies. We’re gonna have to make sure that adoption is readily available and affordable. And I will say this to you: We don’t want to make it so easy that somebody that’s going to abuse a child is able to adopt, but our adoption rates and foster children, all of these things are going up, and we as Mississippi government has (sic) done a terrible job with DHS. We as Mississippi government has (sic) done a terrible job with collecting child support from deadbeat dads. We as Mississippians have done a terrible job of taking care of pregnant women and giving them the postpartum care that they need. And I am well aware of that.

And I will call everyone out that now does not get on this ship with me and steer this in a right direction. You know, we have been given this gift. We have begged and prayed and asked for this ruling. And I’m telling you, now our job begins. If we don’t take care of what God is asking us to do, you know, because I’m very religious and I will tell you that, God has asked me to write this bill.

We have this, and now he’s telling us to feed his sheep. But I know, if you’re not religious, Anna, that’s not gonna — but anybody with religion understands that the Lord said, “If you love me, feed my sheep.” Well, we have an opportunity to show that we will feed his sheep.

MT: I’ve covered these programs and I’ve seen how—

Currie: How horrible they are. They’re horrible.

MT: Why not fix the programs and then outlaw abortion?

Currie: Well, you know, I wasn’t in charge of all that. And you know what else I will tell you to say: If the leadership, now, doesn’t step up to the plate — and you write this, Anna — we need to vote them out.  Vote them out. Because I have fought and fought and fought with leadership on postpartum care, DHS, and they continue to make women feel like we asking questions — we are a pain. Women in the Legislature are looked down on as, “Oh, those lil pesky women, asking questions again about how things are done.” You know, I’ve raised questions about Young Wells (Young Williams, Mississippi’s child support contractor) and the disaster that that has been. And read the PEER report if you don’t wanna believe a woman.

Because our politicians, our leadership wants to help their friend who’s a lawyer running this program. I am sick to death of all that. I’m sick to death. And write all this. I don’t care. I’m sick to death of politicians who just want to give our Medicaid monies to Mississippi CAN companies to leave the state with it instead of taking care of our citizens and our children and our women. I’m sick of it. And I’m telling you now, either you wanna work through this process, you wanna help the people of Mississippi or get out of the way.

All I can do is fight. You know how they are. They’re gonna be pissed that I’ve said all this, but if you don’t wanna help us, get out of the way and let somebody who wants to.

MT: But so much of what we’re talking about, it just takes money and it takes political will for programs that they see as socialism, Becky, that’s the problem.

Currie: Well, you know, Anna, the deal is, half of what I just said — I mean, I realize expansion of Medicaid, they do — but half of what I just said is easy. We should have done this years ago, DHS, CPS, child support. You know, sending our Medicaid dollars to Mississippi CAN so they can give them under the table cash money. I mean, my God, how corrupt do we wanna be? But now is the time. God has given us this wonderful – what we’ve prayed for for 50 years. And if you don’t want to work to make all of this better, for God’s sake, get out of the way.

MT: What would you say is the number one action? Because I don’t know yet if they talked about very specific policy changes or investments (in the Friday press conference). What would you say is the first step?

Currie: The first step would be, make sure that every county health department is open with the ability to prescribe birth control.

MT: Do you know if crisis pregnancy centers prescribe birth control?

Currie: I don’t think they do. I think it’s the crisis after the problem is there already. I think that’s where they go to help make this decision, am I going to have an abortion.

(Editor’s note: Studies have found the majority of crisis centers do not provide or discuss contraceptives and sometimes provide misleading information about birth control).

MT: I think that — as Tate Reeves has represented a while ago when he gave that $3 million (tax credit to crisis pregnancy centers) — I think the men in leadership think that the crisis pregnancy centers are the solution, whereas when I talk to you, you’re talking about county health clinics. You’re talking about the child advocacy centers.

Currie: I hate to tell you, I disagree 100% that the crisis centers are your first step because that’s after the problem exists. So why can’t we help women as of today? But because today abortion is illegal in the state of Mississippi.

(Editor’s note: Abortion is still legal in Mississippi, but a trigger law on the books means it will likely become illegal in coming weeks).

So today we need to make sure every woman in every county has access to birth control. And that may not sound like the Christian thing to say. That’s the most realistic thing to say.

I’m a Christian, but I never want a woman to have to be in the position of having to decide to abort a child or not. In 2022, a woman should never have to come down to that decision with the technology we have. It’s just plain access, non-access to care.

MT: The Medicaid thing is the best example that you can be like, “Alright, let’s see, so we’re outlawing abortion, so women can’t have abortions if they want them, but then, we’re not going to extend postpartum Medicaid, so they’re going to lose their coverage after (60) days.” Like, that doesn’t seem like we’re supporting women.

Currie: Let’s say you have a 19-year-old. Let’s say she had a baby and she’s gonna lose her coverage. And she’s staying up all night. The baby’s got colic, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And she didn’t make it in to get her checkup. She’s got postpartum depression and she needs to be on birth control, but she didn’t make it in ‘cause her life is turned upside down right now. But we don’t wanna take care of her and we’re gonna end that.

That was a chance for us to reach out, knowing that this bill, by all accounts, it was gonna go through. And last year, it passed the Senate and it didn’t come up in the House. The Speaker wouldn’t let it out, but the House was prepared to pass it.

And so that’s what I’m saying to you either, either work with us or get out of the way.

MT: How do you explain that though? Like again, to someone outside the state, what happened there?

Currie: It’s very hard to explain unless you know the backstory that he’s (House Speaker Philip Gunn) running for governor and he doesn’t wanna look like he expanded Medicaid.

MT: The feeling is that we know what these policies are. We know things that we can do to help, but men in leadership are standing in the way?

Currie: They are.

MT: While also saying that they’re doing those things, that they support those things.

Currie: Right. And, you know, I think that my number one bill, my number one legislation to work on is that we make sure every county health department is open and staffed. Because … there’s a lot of women already, that have just ended up pregnant because they had no resources. How much more can the state pay for, because you go on Medicaid the day you find out you’re pregnant. You have a positive pregnancy test, you are entitled to Medicaid. There’s no questions asked.

So you’re gonna pay for all of this. You’re gonna pay for whatever comes in that pregnancy, maybe a NICU. Who knows how much that mother and child is gonna cost the taxpayers instead of just giving them the opportunity to go into their local health department and receive the care that they need.

I mean, you have to think of the amount of care that goes undone because the local health departments used to play a huge role in community health services. So, I mean, we could go down the rabbit hole on this, there’s no telling what’s not being tended to.

MT: But Tate Reeves is just really against any government spending. I mean, that’s not a secret.

Currie: They are unless it benefits them. It’s always a soundbite.

MT: But so how are you gonna get them to increase a state budget?

Currie: Well, let me just say this to you: We do all the time. We give pay raises. We gave enormous pay raises this year. We started a new agency. Republicans don’t grow government. You know, we started a new agency this year for broadband. They tried to start a new agency for tourism. And I killed that bill. So Republicans, if they wanna really be Republicans, you know, don’t spend it on the good ole boy system, then let’s do the basic needs of the people.

So if they wanna get into that rabbit hole, I’ll go down it with them. You know, you grow government, you give pay raises, you increase PIN numbers. They give their friends and their buddies pay raises and they leave everybody else off, or they fire ’em if they don’t like them. Not one time has it (removing agencies from under the personnel board) worked. There’s just so many things, but the good old boy system is old and tiring.

MT: Are you worried that — I mean, again, in this day, it’s more crucial than ever that these supports are put in place for women who are facing these decisions. Are you scared what’s gonna happen if those supports don’t come or if the leadership blocks you?

Absolutely. I’m concerned for women. And you know, not just women, children. I don’t know if you remember, our health departments are where I took all my children to get their vaccinations. At one point it was a big place to go for health care. And now, we have left them with nothing.

So, you know, we are spending a whole lot of money on a lot of other things. So let’s put our money where we know it works, where people can get the care they need.

It’s not expanding Medicaid, which they’re so against. If you don’t wanna expand Medicaid, you’ve got to expand access to care.

I think that is the number one issue. If we don’t do that, shame on all of us.

… Look, we’re all wrapped up in the (U.S. Supreme Court) decision, but the work has just begun. And I don’t want someone to feel like I’ve got to go to another state. I want them to feel that they have the support here. You know, I want them to feel that we did everything we could. If you didn’t go get birth control, because we made it easy and free, if you didn’t go do it, that’s not my fault. That’s yours, you know?

MT: Well, I’m just telling you, women do not feel supported in this state.

Currie: Oh no. I don’t feel supported in this state. I just need you to know, I get it. When a woman stands up in the House to ask a question, I see men roll their eyes. Okay? I see their expression, I see the expression on the Speaker’s face. When I push my button, he’s like, “Oh crap.” He doesn’t want to hear from us. But I want people to know that.

MT: How does it feel knowing that you authored this bill that literally everyone in the nation is—

Currie: Talking about.

MT: Talking about and impacted by.

Currie: You know, I knew that this bill was special when we did it. I don’t know if you’ve read my Newsweek article. I wrote why I wrote and picked 15 weeks.

I knew that this was the right thing to do. Look, it’s not fun at my house on Thanksgiving now, let me just tell you.

MT: Why?

Currie: My brother-in-law lives in Boulder, Colorado.

MT: Oh.

Currie: Does that help? He and his girlfriend hate my guts, you know?  But it’s okay. I mean, I’m okay and I’ve had thick skin for a long time. I don’t know how God made me this way. It’s kind of bad though, it’s kind of a Scarlett O’Hara type thing. “I’ll worry about that another day,” you know? But I’ve had thick skin for a long time.

So, you know, I realize that there’s a lot of unhappy people right now. And I just don’t want anybody to think that I’m not aware that we have changed the nation. And that it’s now our responsibility to help take care of women and children. I feel that from the bottom of my heart.

MT: And I just keep coming back to the fact that I don’t foresee that happening.

Currie: And you may be right. But it won’t be because I didn’t fight for it.

Look, I get it. And look, we’ve really never done anything to prove you wrong.

MT: Right. I mean, I feel like I’ve earned my skepticism at this point, you know?

Currie: Absolutely. You have. And look, I have to tell you something: I don’t have faith in the system. Because I have watched it fail time, after time, after time.

… But I can tell you, my next four years, I’m gonna be hell on wheels.