JACKSON — Gov. Phil Bryant on today signed a bill to ban abortion starting at the midpoint of a full-term pregnancy.
Supporters say it’s designed to protect women’s health, while abortion-rights advocates say it’s unconstitutional.
House Bill 1400, which becomes law July 1, will ban abortion starting at 20 weeks’ gestational age. That’s defined as 20 weeks since the start of the woman’s last menstrual period. A full-term pregnancy is 40 weeks.
There are exceptions: Abortion would still be allowed at or after 20 weeks if the woman faces death or permanent injury because of the pregnancy. It would also be allowed in cases of severe fetal abnormality. However, the new law does not provide exceptions for pregnancies caused by rape or incest.
Republican Bryant, who became governor in 2012, has said often that he wants to end abortion in Mississippi. On April 2, the final day of the three-month legislative session, he said his grown daughter was at about the midpoint of a pregnancy.
“We’ve seen that baby and it’s healthy. It’s a boy,” Bryant said then. “And the idea of destroying that human is just reprehensible to me.”
Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights, criticized the bill.
“With the women and families of their state facing extreme poverty, unacceptable rates of maternal mortality, and skyrocketing teen pregnancy, Mississippi’s elected officials have more than enough real work to do to bolster women’s well-being in their state,” Northup said in a news release Wednesday. “It’s time for these politicians to stop passing laws that attack constitutionally protected women’s health care and finally focus on policies that would support the health, lives and rights of Mississippi women and families.”
Diane Derzis, who owns Mississippi’s only abortion clinic, Jackson Women’s Health Organization, said the clinic stops doing abortions after 16 weeks’ gestation. She said each woman undergoes a sonogram to determine fetal age. Although the clinic would not be affected by the new law, Derzis has said she expects someone will file a legal challenge.
The most recent Health Department statistics show 2,176 abortions were done in Mississippi in 2012. Two were listed at 21 weeks or later, and 382 were of unknown gestational age. Supporters of the bill said they were troubled by the number of unknowns.
Several states have a 20-week ban, including Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas.
Felicia Brown-Williams, director of public policy for Planned Parenthood Southeast, said the Mississippi law is similar to an Arizona law blocked by a federal appeals court. Judges found the Arizona law violated the constitutionally protected right to abortion before a fetus is able to survive outside the womb. Viability is generally considered to start at 24 weeks. The U.S. Supreme Court in January declined to reconsider the ruling about the Arizona law by the San Francisco-based 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Supporters of the Mississippi law point out that Mississippi is in a conservative federal appeals court district, the New Orleans-based 5th Circuit, so a legal challenge might have a different outcome.