Bill would ban most abortions in Mississippi

Published 7:20 pm Thursday, February 8, 2007

Mississippi would ban most abortions, and people who perform the procedures would face criminal penalties, under a bill that cleared the state Senate on Wednesday.

The bill would prohibit abortions except in cases of rape, incest or if the pregnant woman’s life were endangered. Anyone found guilty of providing an abortion would face misdemeanor charges, a $5,000 fine and up to a year in jail.

The bill goes to the House for more consideration, as do two other abortion bills the Senate passed Wednesday.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

With new, conservative justices on the U.S. Supreme Court, Mississippi is one of a handful of states where legislators are considering bills that either would challenge Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion, or would implement bans or near-bans if a case from another state overturns the ruling.

The Mississippi House last year passed a bill similar to the one that cleared the Senate Wednesday, with abortions allowed only in cases of rape, incest or danger to the woman’s life. Last year’s bill died when the House and Senate couldn’t agree on final wording.

The near-ban was just one of three abortion bills the state Senate approved Wednesday in what has become a perennial fight.

Another bill would require doctors in Mississippi to give women considering an abortion the chance to listen to her fetal or embryonic heartbeat and view a sonogram. Minors who don’t have parental consent would have to wait until they get a court’s permission before undergoing an abortion, under another bill.

Abortion-rights activists vow to fight the proposals.

“This makes a religious statement about what women’s bodies are for,” said Tom Head, secretary of the Mississippi chapter of the National Organization for Women. “It makes the statement that a woman’s body is, for lack of a better term, an incubator.”

The ban bill passed the Senate 34-5, even though some lawmakers acknowledge such a prohibition couldn’t be enforced unless the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade.

“I don’t think that we should be here trying to criminalize abortion,” said Sen. John Horhn, D-Jackson. “We should give women the right to choose. We should give them the right to maintain control of their reproductive rights.”

Senate Public Health Committee Chairman Alan Nunnelee, R-Tupelo, argued that the bill does not regulate what women choose to do with their bodies.

“This bill in no way regulates these young women. What this bill does is regulate these folks that are making money off these young women,” Nunnelee said. “It says it will be a criminal act in this state for them to perform this procedure unless it’s to save the life of this young woman or in cases of rape or incest.”

That’s exactly what frightens abortion rights activists like Head.

“Women will still be able to get abortions, they’ll just do it without medical care,” Head said.

Mississippi already has one of the strictest abortion laws in the nation, requiring the consent of both parents for minors who seek the procedure and a 24-hour waiting period and counseling before all abortions.

Planned Parenthood of Alabama issued a news release on Wednesday, criticizing the Senate action.

“We ask that legislators stop wasting time and taxpayer funds on criminalizing abortion when they should be focusing on affordable housing, good education and access to south health care, as well as the continuing unmet needs of the public following Hurricane Katrina,” the release said.

The bill is expected to face serious opposition in the House, where last year some lawmakers offered passionate arguments against a similar bill.

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.

The bills are Senate Bill 2801, 2391 and 2795.