Several abortion bills introduced in Miss. Legislature

Published 11:57 pm Saturday, January 20, 2007

Doctors in Mississippi would be required to give a woman the chance to listen to her fetal or embryonic heartbeat and view a sonogram before undergoing an abortion, if some lawmakers get their way.

Mississippi is one of several states wrestling with new abortion restrictions this year in what has become a perennial fight in many state capitols.

Lawmakers in both Georgia and Mississippi have proposed bans on the procedure, though such a ban couldn’t be enforced unless the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, its 1973 decision that legalized abortion.

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“Abortionists make a lot of money and they want to convey the idea that this procedure involves a mass of tissue when in reality it involves a child,” said Senate Public Health Committee Chairman Alan Nunnelee, R-Tupelo.

He believes women will change their minds about abortions when forced to realize there’s a living baby in their wombs.

Abortion-rights activists say they will fight the bill. They say many abortions take place too early in the pregnancy to hear a heartbeat, anyway.

Ann Rose is vice president of the National Women’s Health Organization, which runs Mississippi’s only abortion clinic. She said the Jackson facility already performs sonograms and women can see them if they want.

“This bill is just another one of their litany of issues trying to harass clinics and women trying to get abortions,” Rose said. “It don’t think it will see the light of day.”

The Senate approved the heartbeat-and-sonogram proposal last year but the bill was changed in the House to a more sweeping ban on most abortions. The bill eventually died.

“I would love for Mississippi to become the first state in the nation to completely ban them,” Nunnelee said. “There’s significant risks to abortion. If we take up an outright ban, it will be for the purpose of protecting the health of these young women.”

Rose said any ban on abortions would be unconstitutional.

“It didn’t work in South Dakota and I don’t think it’s going to work in Mississippi or anyplace else,” Rose said. “It’s in direct opposition to Roe v. Wade.”

South Dakota legislators last March passed a bill that sought to ban nearly all abortions. The measure was referred to a statewide public referendum in November, and voters rejected the ban.

Nunnelee knows an outright ban on abortions is a tough sell, and hopes to push through the sonogram bill if lawmakers fail to prohibit the procedure.

Either bill could face strong opposition, if only from a few vocal lawmakers.

“I had hoped that I had made my last comment on this subject,” said Rep. Jim Evans, D-Jackson. “We just debated this last year and came to no conclusion. We debated it for 20 years and haven’t come to any conclusion so I’m just wondering when we are going to … focus on improving the quality of life for the living.”

During the 2006 debate, Evans argued a ban would be wrong.

“If you’ve been raped by a low-life, no good, nasty, good-for-nothing rapist and now you’re going to tell a woman she’s got to look at it for 19 years or some time and carry it for nine months — what kind of human being would do that?” Evans said.

Rep. Deryk Parker, D-Lucedale, argued there should be no abortions allowed in cases of rape or incest.

“God does not make mistakes,” Parker said during the debate last year. “Regardless of how conception takes place, life begins at conception.”

State Department of Health statistics show there were 3,041 abortions performed in Mississippi in 2005, down from a 10-year high of 4,325 in 1997.

Camilla Lewis with Jackson-based Pro-Life Mississippi said Nunnelee’s bill would reduce the number of abortions in Mississippi.

“If a woman sees and hears movement, those things are going to appeal to her senses and maternal nature,” Lewis said. “No telling how many abortions that could avert.”

Parker and Rep. Mike Lott, R-Petal, want to ban abortion altogether in Mississippi and criminalize the procedure except in cases when the pregnancy threatens the life of the mother. Their bills would make performing an abortion a misdemeanor offense punishable by a $5,000 fine and up to one year in prison.

Georgia Rep. Bobby Franklin introduced a similar ban bill in that state but he wants to charge those who perform abortions with a felony. The bill is not expected to gain widespread support.

Many lawmakers know it would be extremely difficult to prohibit abortions, so some states are looking for other ways to discourage women from going through with the procedure. Some Indiana lawmakers want to require abortion doctors to tell women that fetuses might feel pain. South Dakota requires abortion doctors to tell patients that life begins at conception.

Sen. Joey Fillingane, R-Sumrall, is looking ahead to the possibility that someday the U.S. Supreme Court will reverse Roe v. Wade.

He wants a state constitutional amendment on the November ballot to read, in part, “that nothing in the Constitution shall be construed as granting to any person the right to choose to have an abortion.”

“I’m trying to address this issue before it becomes an issue,” Fillingane said.

The bills are Senate Bill 2801, House Bills 670 and 1241, and Senate Concurrent Resolution 531.