Legislators mulling new regulation on abortions

JACKSON — Mississippi lawmakers are considering banning abortion after 20 weeks’ gestation, halfway through a normal full-term pregnancy of 40 weeks.

Exceptions would be made to prevent permanent physical damage or death of the pregnant woman, or in cases of several fetal abnormalities.

Health Department statistics show 2,176 abortions were done in Mississippi in 2012, the most recent statistics available. Two were listed at 21 weeks or later, and 382 were listed as unknown gestational age.

Diane Derzis, who owns Mississippi’s only abortion clinic, said the proposed change wouldn’t affect her operation, Jackson Women’s Health Organization. She said the clinic stops doing abortions after 16 weeks. Before an abortion is done, a sonogram is performed and the patient is told the gestational age of the fetus, she said.

Derzis said she’d expect someone to file a legal challenge if a 20-week ban becomes law.

“I think it’s going to be an issue that’s going to go before the courts,” Derzis told The Associated Press in a phone interview yesterday.

Terri Herring of Pro-Life America Network supports the 20-week ban, saying the public needs more information about abortions listed as unknown gestational age.

“We really are concerned about where abortions are being performed and potentially these late-term abortions,” Herring said in a Jan. 17 interview.

Several states have a 20-week ban, including Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas.

In January, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected Arizona’s attempt to revive a 20-week ban that was blocked by a federal appeals court. The appeals court had ruled that the Arizona law violates a woman’s constitutionally protected right to terminate a pregnancy before a fetus is able to survive outside the womb. Viability of a fetus is generally considered to start at 24 weeks.

House Bill 1400 has passed the Mississippi House Judiciary B Committee and awaits consideration of the full House before a Feb. 14 deadline.

The bill’s chief sponsor is Judiciary B Chairman Andy Gipson, R-Braxton.

“HB 1400 recognizes that an unborn child at 20 weeks’ gestation can both feel pain and survive outside the womb,” Gipson said Tuesday. Both points are disputed.

“This bill will protect the unborn from abortion except in cases where the life of the mother is in danger,” Gipson said.

Mississippi abortion statistics are listed as “induced termination of pregnancy,” defined as “the intentional termination of pregnancy with the intention other than to produce a live-born infant or to remove a dead fetus.” More than half of the abortions reported in Mississippi in 2012 — 1,121 out of 2,176 — were done at under nine weeks’ gestation.

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