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Mississippi awaits governor's OK on abortion restriction

A Mississippi bill to make most abortions illegal after 15 weeks of pregnancy is now awaiting the governor's expected signature, a step likely to trigger a tough legal challenge against what would become the nation's most restrictive abortion law.

Posted: Mar 9, 2018 5:34 AM

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — A Mississippi bill to make most abortions illegal after 15 weeks of pregnancy is now awaiting the governor's expected signature, a step likely to trigger a tough legal challenge against what would become the nation's most restrictive abortion law.

Lawmakers in the Republican-controlled Legislature sent the bill on Thursday to GOP Gov. Phil Bryant. House Bill 1510 would make abortion illegal in most cases after 15 weeks of pregnancy, which would be the earliest cutoff in the nation.

The House voted 75-34 for the bill on Thursday, two days after Senate passage. Because of paperwork, the bill won't reach Bryant's desk until next week.

Already, the state's only abortion provider has pledged to sue, and Mississippi's attorney general said he expected a vigorous legal battle ahead.

"We are protecting more women, we are protecting more children," said House Judiciary B Committee Chairman Andy Gipson, a Braxton Republican. "By 15 weeks, you have a child in the womb who has a heartbeat, who for all practical purposes has taken on the form of a person."

Under the Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling establishing a nationwide right to abortion, states were permitted to restrict abortions after viability — the point when the fetus has a reasonable chance of surviving under normal conditions outside the uterus. The ruling offered no legal definition of viability, saying it could range between 24 and 28 weeks into a pregnancy.

The Mississippi measure "seems like a pretty simple bill designed to test the viability line that the Supreme Court has drawn," said David Forte, a law professor at Ohio's Cleveland State University.

Abortion-rights-groups immediately denounced the bill, saying it is not legally or medically sound.

"We certainly think this bill is unconstitutional," said Katherine Klein, equality advocacy coordinator for the American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi. "The 15-week marker has no bearing in science. It's just completely unfounded and a court has never upheld anything under the 20-week viability marker."

She predicted a court challenge will result in a costly loss for the Mississippi law.

Anti-abortion groups applauded the measure.

"We're thrilled that Mississippi lawmakers are taking a step to protect the basic right to life, as well as protecting maternal health," said Jameson Taylor, acting president of the conservative Mississippi Center for Public Policy. The center helped craft the bill.

House Bill 1510 includes two exceptions: if the fetus has a health problem that would prevent it from surviving outside the womb at full term, or if the pregnant woman's life or a "major bodily function" is threatened by the pregnancy. Pregnancies as a result of rape and incest are not exempt.

It's unclear if a 15-week ban will move forward elsewhere. A bill has been filed for Louisiana's upcoming legislative session. Gipson said lawmakers in Texas, Georgia, and "some Midwestern states" are exploring the idea. An appeals court in 2015 struck down efforts in North Dakota to ban most abortions after six weeks, when a fetus develops a detectable heartbeat, and in Arkansas after 12 weeks.

Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood said Thursday that he expected legal challenges and he noted that less-restrictive measures banning abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy have been struck down in other states. The U.S. Senate earlier this year rejected such a ban nationwide when supporters couldn't reach a 60-vote supermajority to act.

Mississippi's 20-week ban has never been legally challenged, in part because the state's only abortion clinic, the Jackson Women's Health Organization, doesn't perform abortions that late in pregnancy. According to state Department of Health statistics, 85 percent of abortions in Mississippi took place before 12 weeks in 2016.

Diane Derzis, who owns the clinic, has said it provides abortions as late as 18 weeks after pregnancy. Most of Mississippi's 2,500 abortions in 2015 took place at the clinic. Before the bill was passed, Derzis said she would sue. She did not respond to text or telephone messages seeking comment Thursday.

Taylor said the Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian conservative legal advocacy group, was among those that vetted the bill's language. The Arizona-based alliance didn't respond to questions. Senior counsel Kevin Theriot said in a statement that the alliance "supports states' important and legitimate efforts to protect the health and safety of women and children."

Forte and University of Chicago Law Professor Geoffrey Stone said they believe the chances the Supreme Court will consider a major abortion case are slim as long as the current justices remain, though a case could ascend quickly on an emergency appeal of a lower court ruling.

Mississippi lawmakers may be hoping that one of the justices more favorable to abortion rights, such as Anthony Kennedy or Ruth Bader Ginsburg, will have stepped down by the time the state's case reaches the Supreme Court.

Kennedy, for example, has twice in the past 26 years been part of a 5-4 majority upholding abortion rights.

"If Anthony Kennedy has already stepped down, this would make perfect sense," Stone said.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 312926

Reported Deaths: 7226
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto21474257
Hinds20271414
Harrison17796309
Rankin13561278
Jackson13404246
Madison10062217
Lee9961173
Jones8364163
Forrest7644152
Lauderdale7178240
Lowndes6366144
Lamar621286
Lafayette6168118
Washington5322133
Bolivar4796132
Oktibbeha461198
Panola4556105
Pearl River4494145
Marshall4396103
Warren4376121
Pontotoc419372
Monroe4094133
Union408876
Neshoba4024176
Lincoln3947110
Hancock377086
Leflore3487125
Sunflower335790
Tate332384
Pike3294105
Scott315273
Alcorn311568
Yazoo310669
Itawamba299377
Copiah296065
Simpson294488
Coahoma294279
Tippah287668
Prentiss279360
Marion268780
Adams266082
Leake265573
Wayne262341
Grenada260186
Covington256381
George246748
Newton245961
Winston226881
Tishomingo225567
Jasper220848
Attala214173
Chickasaw207157
Holmes188673
Clay184754
Stone181833
Tallahatchie178140
Clarke177879
Calhoun169832
Yalobusha163336
Smith162234
Walthall133845
Greene130333
Lawrence128323
Montgomery126742
Noxubee126734
Perry125838
Amite122842
Carroll121728
Webster114532
Jefferson Davis106932
Tunica104726
Claiborne102230
Benton99025
Humphreys96133
Kemper95328
Franklin83423
Quitman80016
Choctaw76018
Wilkinson66930
Jefferson65428
Sharkey50217
Issaquena1686
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 530011

Reported Deaths: 10946
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson763591519
Mobile40875804
Madison34676503
Tuscaloosa25717451
Montgomery24308585
Shelby23389248
Baldwin21093307
Lee15844169
Calhoun14481313
Morgan14281279
Etowah13813353
Marshall12203222
Houston10553280
Elmore10036205
Limestone9952150
Cullman9647193
St. Clair9634239
Lauderdale9413241
DeKalb8821185
Talladega8210175
Walker7222277
Autauga6914108
Jackson6803111
Blount6645136
Colbert6291134
Coffee5503118
Dale4826111
Russell440038
Chilton4263111
Franklin425482
Covington4120117
Tallapoosa4006152
Escambia393276
Chambers3559123
Dallas3544151
Clarke350861
Marion3111100
Pike310177
Lawrence299898
Winston273772
Bibb260463
Marengo249164
Geneva248777
Pickens233760
Barbour230757
Hale222577
Butler215869
Fayette212062
Henry188744
Cherokee184345
Randolph179941
Monroe177040
Washington167039
Macon158650
Clay155956
Crenshaw151957
Cleburne148741
Lamar141834
Lowndes138553
Wilcox127029
Bullock123041
Conecuh110129
Perry107526
Coosa107128
Sumter104332
Greene92334
Choctaw60424
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