2nd ban on abortion funding goes to Miss. governor

Published 2:03 pm Friday, April 30, 2010

Mississippi lawmakers on Wednesday sent Gov. Haley Barbour a bill to ban public funding for most abortions, a move that critics said is unnecessary because it repeats what’s been in state law the past eight years.

The House voted 88-25 to remove a procedural hold that had been placed on the bill Saturday.

The vote was the final bit of business for the 2010 regular legislative session that started in early January, went until late March and resumed for a few days over the past week. Senators have been gone since Friday, but the abortion bill brought the House to the Capitol on Saturday and Wednesday.

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Barbour spokesman Dan Turner said the governor has been busy since a massive tornado ripped through the state Saturday and hasn’t read the abortion bill.

“I would feel certain he would feel comfortable in signing that,” Turner said.

The bill would prohibit public funding of abortion in any health exchanges that will be created once all parts of a federal health care law are in place in 2014.

Supporters said they thought it was important for the state to respond to the recently enacted federal law.

Critics called the bill political pandering because Mississippi has had a law since 2002 that prohibits any federal, state or local tax dollars from being used for most elective abortions.

Senators passed the bill unanimously on Friday. The House passed it 75-32 Saturday before an opponent held it for the possibility of more debate.

Wednesday’s House discussion lasted less than five minutes and no one argued in favor of letting the bill go to the governor. Even opponents said it was clear there were enough votes to release the bill.

Rep. Jim Evans, D-Jackson, said Mississippi lawmakers should use their time to tackle big issues like budget cuts, poverty and unemployment.

“We fiddled while Rome was burning,” Evans said.

The title of the bill is the “Federal Abortion-Mandate Opt-Out Act.” The recently enacted federal health overhaul law allows health plans to cover abortions but requires people to pay for that coverage with their own money. President Barack Obama also signed an executive order reaffirming the ban on using federal money for most abortions.

Tennessee is among the other states where lawmakers have already passed bills to opt out of abortion funding under the federal health care overhaul.

The 2002 Mississippi law allows public funding for abortion only if the procedure is medically necessary to save the pregnant woman’s life, if the pregnancy was caused by rape or incest or if a fetal malformation would clearly cause a miscarriage or stillbirth. The bill that passed Saturday has exceptions for danger to the pregnant woman’s life and rape or incest, but not for severe fetal malformation.

The bill was sponsored by Republican Sens. Alan Nunnelee of Tupelo, who is running for Congress this year, and Billy Hewes of Gulfport, who’s running for lieutenant governor in 2011.

House Public Health Committee Chairman Steve Holland, D-Plantersville, said Friday that the bill “is a political statement of a senator running for United States Congress.”

Nunnelee’s campaign issued a news release Friday saying: “Senator Nunnelee just passed a bill out of committee that will prohibit Mississippi from spending any state or federal funds on abortions as provided in Obamacare.”

The bill is Senate Bill 3214.