Rep. Adrienne Wooten tried to fend off a bill to ban most abortions after 20 weeks, but the measure ultimately passed the House and now moves on to the Senate.
One female lawmaker gave it her best shot, but the Mississippi House of Representatives approved a proposal this morning to ban abortions after 20 weeks of conception.
The bill states "substantial medical evidence recognizes that an unborn child is capable of experiencing pain by not later than twenty (20) weeks after conception," and that women have "adequate time to decide whether to have an abortion in the first twenty (20) weeks after conception." In addition to banning most abortions after 20 weeks, or about five months, the bill prohibits abortions until a doctor determines the "probable post-conception age of the unborn child." It makes no exceptions for rape or incest.
Rep. Adrienne Wooten, a Democrat from Jackson, argued that the bill should at least make exceptions to protect children who are victims of incest and rape. Rep. Andy Gipson, R-Braxton, who chairs the Judiciary B Committee and sponsored the legislation, said the bill is designed to "protect the unborn who can't speak for themselves."
Gipson cited statistics from state health officials that show 2,176 abortions were performed in Mississippi in 2012. Two were listed at 21 weeks or later, and 382 were listed as unknown gestational age.
Wooten questioned why the Legislature should involve itself in an issue that applies to only a few of the state's 3 million residents.
"If there was only one that we could save with this bill, it would be worth the effort," Gipson said, drawing applause from fellow supporters of the bill.
Rep. Toby Barker, R-Hattiesburg, offered an amendment to exclude rape and incest victims, but that measure failed. Representatives passed HB 1400 by a vote of 89-22.
Diane Derzis, who owns Mississippi's only abortion clinic, told the Associated Press the proposed change wouldn't affect the facility, which she says stops doing abortions after 16 weeks. Derzis, owner of Jackson Women's Health Organization, is also fending off a 2012 law—HB 1390—that imposed strict regulations on abortion clinics that JWHO has been unable to meet.
After the vote, representatives of Planned Parenthood said the bill "reflects an extreme agenda to limit a woman's ability to make her own health care decisions and shows that many elected officials are completely out of touch with their constituents on this issue."
"Mississippi voters have already rejected the notion that politicians and the government should dictate deeply personal and difficult decisions around health care and pregnancy. Women don't ask politicians for medical advice, and politicians shouldn't try to force their way into medical decisions," said Felicia Brown-Williams, Planned Parenthood Southeast's public policy director, referring to the unsuccessful personhood campaign of 2011, in a statement.
House Bill 1400 now heads to the Senate, where its fate is unclear. Lt. Gov. Reeves, who is also a pro-life conservative and presides over the Senate, hailed the passage of HB 1390, which required Derzis' clinic to obtain admitting privileges at a local hospital, as a victory toward ending abortion in Mississippi. However, Reeves has killed other bills that would restrict abortion access.
No matter what happens with HB 1400, it will almost certainly face a court battle. Judges in Texas and Arizona have ruled laws similar to HB 1400 as unconstitutional.