Bill with abortion restrictions headed to Miss. governor

Published 5:38 pm Friday, March 9, 2007

A bill designed to eventually outlaw and criminalize abortion in Mississippi got final approval from the state Legislature on Thursday and Gov. Haley Barbour is expected to sign it into law.

The measure would ban nearly all abortions in the state if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that legalized abortion nationwide. If Roe v. Wade is overturned and the state bill becomes law, anyone performing an illegal abortion in Mississippi would face one to 10 years in prison.

Pete Smith, a spokesman for Barbour, said the Republican governor is “inclined to sign it” but wants to review it first.

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The bill also tightens consent laws for minors and requires abortion provider to perform sonogram and give the pregnant woman an opportunity to listen to a fetal heartbeat. It is just one of several abortion laws being considered across the country.

South Carolina lawmakers this week discussed a measure that would force a woman to view ultrasound images of the fetus before undergoing an abortion. In Oklahoma, a House committee on Tuesday approved several abortion measures, including one that would define abortion, in part, as a procedure in which a drug is injected a fetus’ heart to cause death.

In Kentucky, a bill being considered would require that a women considering an abortion be informed that at 20 weeks an “unborn child has the physical structures necessary to experience pain.” The normal gestation period is 40 weeks.

The ultimate goal of lawmakers in Mississippi and several other states is to one day challenge Roe v. Wade. Anti-abortion activists and some lawmakers believe that with the recent appointments of new, conservative justices on the U.S. Supreme Court, Roe v. Wade could be overturned.

“I think Mississippi is perfectly positioned to be the one to make that challenge. We just won’t do it in 2007,” Senate Public Health Committee Chairman Alan Nunnelee, R-Tupelo, said Thursday.

Lawmakers in South Dakota pushed through a ban last year, but voters later rejected it.

Under bill in Mississippi, the only exceptions to the state ban would be in cases of rape or if the pregnancy threatens the woman’s life. The bill has no separate exception that would allow abortions for pregnancies caused by incest.

Katherine Grainger, director of state programs for the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights, said Mississippi already has the most restrictive abortion laws in the nation. There is only one abortion clinic currently operating in Mississippi. It is in Jackson.

“It’s just making the restrictive laws worse. They’re making it so women can’t access a right that the United States Supreme Court says they should be able to access under the constitution,” she said. “This year we’re seeing the same efforts being waged in other states.”

Diane Grisham of Dumas, who often volunteers for anti-abortion causes, applauded the bill.

“I think the voice of the people of Mississippi was finally heard and we could ban abortion in Mississippi if Roe v. Wade were overturned,” she said. “I just see it as a continuing battle for the babies.”

The proposal would also tighten the existing state law that requires a minor to have the permission of her parents or a judge before getting an abortion. The sonogram and parental consent provisions would take effect July 1.

The bill is Senate Bill 2391.