Gov. Taps Anti-Abortion Activist for Health Board

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant has nominated anti-abortion activist Terri Herring for a six-year term on the state Board of Health, a position that could give Herring influence over Health Department policies that affect the state's only abortion clinic.

Hers is one of several nominations awaiting consideration in the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee in the next 10 days. If confirmed by a majority of the Senate, Herring would serve July 1 to June 30, 2019.

Republican Bryant nominated Herring, of Ridgeland, to succeed Ellen Williams, of Senatobia, who is a registered nurse and has a doctorate degree. Williams has served on the board since 2004.

"Gov. Bryant believes Terri has been dedicated to women's health care for more than 20 years and will bring a balance to the Board of Health," Bryant spokesman Mick Bullock said Wednesday in response to questions about Herring's qualifications. "This appointment will fill one of the six non-physician spots on the board."

Herring's voice mail was full Wednesday and she did not immediately respond to an emailed request for an interview. Bullock did not respond to The Associated Press' request for a copy of Herring's resume or biography.

The 11-member Board of Health oversees the state Department of Health, including appointing its director. It also approves the state health plan and sets rules and regulations for the department.

State law says the board must be made up of five currently licensed physicians with at least seven years' experience in practicing medicine. The other six members must be people "who have a background in public health or an interest in public health who are not currently or formerly licensed physicians."

Herring has lobbied since the mid-1980s to tighten abortion laws in Mississippi. As head of Pro Life America Network, she is pushing this year for a bill that would put new restrictions on abortion-inducing drugs.

Sen. Deborah Dawkins, D-Pass Christian, who supports abortion rights, said she wants to know whether Herring is qualified to serve on the Board of Health.

"I really don't know anything about her except, you know, she's an agitator for her cause," Dawkins said. "I'll be glad to look at her credentials, but if she doesn't meet the qualifications, I'll also be glad to oppose her on the floor. And they ought to know by now that I will."

Sen. Joey Fillingane, R-Sumrall, said he supports the nomination.

"I've known Terri for 14 years and have worked with her on a number of pro-life issues," Fillingane said. "I've always found her to be very fair but very passionate about the causes she believes in. That makes for a good appointment."

During the 2012 legislative session, Herring was among those lobbying for a bill that eventually became law and is being challenged in federal court. It requires any physician who performs abortions at the state's only abortion clinic to have admitting privileges to a local hospital.

Herring also lobbied for a bill that would have banned abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected. She criticized Senate Judiciary B Committee Chairman Hob Bryan, D-Amory, for killing it — and she criticized Republican Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves for sending the bill to Bryan's committee.

"The Senate leadership has guarded the floor like they would the 'hen house'— the fear is that given the opportunity our senators would pass heartbeat, in a heartbeat," Herring said April 26, 2012.

Herring has also pushed for a state constitutional amendment that would define life as beginning at fertilization. In November 2011, 58 percent of voters rejected such an amendment, at the same time they elected Bryant as governor.

Oxford resident Cristen Hemmins, an abortion rights supporter, said she's troubled by Herring's support of the amendment.

"She has a long history of supporting fetuses' rights over women's rights," Hemmins said. "Mississippi voters have made it clear that Mississippi women deserve to make their own decisions about their health care with their doctors, and Terri Herring has made it abundantly clear that she stands on the other side of these issues."

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