Diane Derzis is the owner of the lone Mississippi abortion clinic, Jackson Women's Health Organization, which does abortions up to 15 weeks' gestation. She said the state is inviting another expensive lawsuit by trying to ban a commonly used abortion method.
JACKSON JACKSON, MISS. — Mississippi legislators are on track to produce dozens of new state laws. And, as in years past, they're probably creating plenty of work for attorneys.
Before some bills even land on Gov. Phil Bryant's desk, opponents are saying the measures could be challenged in court if they are signed into law.
Three examples are one bill that would restructure the Jackson airport board, one that would ban a second-trimester abortion method and one that would let circuit clerks cite religious beliefs to refuse marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
Senate Bill 2162 was filed by Republican Sen. Josh Harkins of Flowood, a real estate broker who says the Jackson-Medgar Wiley Evers Airport is falling short of its economic potential. The airport sits in Harkins' district in suburban Rankin County, but it's on land that has been part of the city of Jackson for decades.
The current airport board has five members, all nominated by the Jackson mayor and confirmed by the City Council. The bill would set a nine-member board to include people from the Jackson suburbs of Madison and Rankin counties.
As with many thorny Mississippi issues, this one is deeply intertwined with race.
The bill is strongly opposed by the Legislative Black Caucus, most members of the Jackson legislative delegation and many other Democrats who say it's a power grab by white suburbs for an economic asset controlled by the state's majority-black capital city. During a five-hour debate Thursday, several black lawmakers said the proposal is akin to one person confiscating another person's home, car or land.
Democratic Rep. Adrienne Wooten of Jackson, who's an attorney and African-American, told the three-fifths Republican majority that it was acting "very thuggish" in passing the bill. She also said that if the airport bill becomes law: "It will be tied up in court, even if I have to do pro bono work."
Republican Rep. Mark Baker of Brandon, who's an attorney and white, told the House: "There is no property-taking here. There is nothing being taken away from the city of Jackson."
The abortion proposal is in House Bill 519, which would ban a commonly used second-trimester procedure, dilation and evacuation. The bill uses language provided by the Washington-based National Right to Life Committee. It would prohibit any abortion that would involve extracting a live fetus in pieces from the uterus using instruments like clamps and forceps.
Courts have already blocked similar laws that Kansas and Oklahoma enacted in 2015.
Diane Derzis is the owner of the lone Mississippi abortion clinic, Jackson Women's Health Organization, which does abortions up to 15 weeks' gestation. She said the state is inviting an expensive lawsuit by trying to ban a commonly used abortion method.
House Bill 1523, called the "Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act," was filed in response to the U.S. Supreme Court decision last summer that made same-sex marriage legal across the nation. It says state officials, private business owners and others who provide services to the public couldn't be punished for acting on religious beliefs that marriage should only be between a man and a woman.
Republican Sen. Jenifer Branning of Philadelphia said the bill would protect people from violating their own deeply held beliefs, including circuit clerks who issue marriage licenses or judges who perform marriage ceremonies.
However, Erik Fleming, advocacy director for the ACLU of Mississippi, said the bill "threatens democracy, civil rights and religious freedom."
"It would allow religion to be used for blatant discrimination," Fleming said.