Bill passed requiring pre-abortion fetal heartbeat check

JACKSON — A bill that would require physicians to search for a fetal heartbeat before performing an abortion passed the Mississippi House yesterday

The bill potentially would require women to have transvaginal ultrasounds of the sort that were contested in Virginia recently, because a heartbeat cannot be heard through a traditional ultrasound until five or six weeks into a pregnancy, legislators said. House Judiciary B chairman Andy Gipson, R-Braxton, said it would be up to the State Board of Health to determine the method doctors use to search for the heartbeat.

Asked for the purpose of the bill, Gipson told the House it was so “the woman could know about it (the heartbeat) and prevent abortion in case it’s detected.” The measure is among a number being supported by anti-abortion groups in this year’s legislative session.

House Bill 1196 contains a language similar to the “personhood amendment,” which would have defined life as beginning at conception but was defeated by voters last year. The bill defines an “unborn human individual” as “an individual organism of the species homo sapiens from fertilization until live birth.”

House Speaker Philip Gunn requested the House to keep their questions short because the members already knew how they were going to vote before the discussion started. Although the bill was debated for an hour before going to a vote, it passed 78-36, similar to a vote on another abortion bill the day before.

Rep. John Hines, D-Greenville offered an amendment to prohibit vasectomies in the state of Mississippi, in an effort to shed light on what he said was a double standard between men and women’s reproductive health.

“My momma is a devout Christian and doesn’t care for abortion, but she still doesn’t want to be told what to do with her body,” Hines said. “Why are we putting shackles on women’s necks and leading them around? Because that’s what we’re doing.”

In a transvaginal sonogram, a device is inserted into a woman’s vagina. Many women only undergo abdominal sonograms, in which devices are used on a woman’s belly.

Rep. Adrienne Wooten, D-Jackson held up a ruler and small jar to show the House to size of a transvaginal sonogram device, which she said is 10 inches long and three inches wide.

“This is state-sanctioned rape,” Wooten said. “If a woman has already decided this is a procedure she wants to undergo, what is the purpose of forcing her to do this?”

A similar proposal in Virginia last month caused a national uproar after comedians mocked it. The sponsor decided to withdraw it following the publicity. A number of other states have considered similar proposals.

Rep. Rita Martinson, R-Madison, spoke in support of the bill, saying that women should take responsibility for their actions.

“We’re the ones who remove our pants, are we not? We are the ones who allow ourselves to be vulnerable to a pregnancy,” Martinson said.

The bill also includes a set of scientific assertions, including that, “over ninety percent of in vitro pregnancies survive the first trimester if cardiac activity is detected in the gestational sac,” and that, “less than five percent of all natural pregnancies end in spontaneous miscarriage after detection of fetal cardiac activity.”

When questioned by Rep. David Baria, D-Bay St. Louis, about where the medical assertions came from, Gipson said he had vetted them with an anti-abortion group and a former Representative who is a gynecologist.

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