Mississippi Legislature Approves Bill Banning Abortions After 15 Weeks

Mississippi's Legislature has passed a bill banning abortion after 15 weeks of gestation, one of the most restrictive limitations on abortion in the country.

The measure, which is poised to become law once signed by the governor, allows for exceptions only in a "medical emergency and in cases of severe fetal abnormality." It does not allow abortion in cases involving rape or incest. Fifteen weeks is calculated from the first day of the woman's last menstrual period.

The bill defines severe fetal abnormality as a physical condition "incompatible with life outside the womb."

Gov. Phil Bryant has signaled that he will sign the bill.

"As I have repeatedly said, I want Mississippi to be the safest place in America for an unborn child," he wrote on Twitter. "House Bill 1510 will help us achieve that goal."

The bill passed on Tuesday in the Mississippi Senate, after lawmakers removed language imposing criminal penalties that would involve jail time. Physicians could still lose their state medical licenses and receive a civil penalty of up to $500. On Thursday, the House approved the amended text in a 75-34 vote, according to The Associated Press.

The measure saw intense debate from lawmakers before it was passed.

"This change to the law has twin purposes: to force women to have babies they don't want, and then to stigmatize and undermine the resulting single mothers. It'll be the worst thing that we do here today," said State Sen. Deborah Dawkins, a Democrat, as Mississippi Edition reported.

State Sen. Angela Hill, a Republican, strongly supported the measure. "I think that banning abortions with the language in this bill would be the best thing we could do. ... I don't like abortions, period. It's inhumane."

The U.S. Supreme Court has rejected other states' attempts to dramatically limit the number of weeks in which a woman can receive an abortion. For example, it tossed out a North Dakota law that banned abortions as early as six weeks into a pregnancy and an Arkansas law that banned abortions at 12 weeks.

Multiple states have laws banning abortion after 20 weeks, which has been Mississippi's law as well.

"For decades, the U.S. Supreme Court has been telling states that they can't ban abortions before a fetus can survive outside the womb on its own," notes The Associated Press.

"The Supreme Court has said and resaid again and again that states cannot prohibit women from obtaining abortions prior to viability, which is what a 15-week ban would do," Hillary Schneller, staff attorney for the Center for Reproductive Rights, told the wire service.

Mississippi has only one clinic that performs abortions, the Jackson Women's Health Organization, according to the Clarion Ledger. The clinic owner, Diane Derzis, has told the local paper that she plans to sue if Bryant signs the bill.

"These groups are tossing anything and everything out there, anything that could start winding its way through the legal system because we're in a very fragile place right now," Derzis told the Ledger. "Roe is clearly in danger and that's what they're preparing for. ... They hope by the time they get to the Supreme Court they will have changed the Supreme Court."

In January, the U.S. Senate rejected a bill that would ban most abortions after 20 weeks.

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