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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: 296154

Reported Deaths: 6764
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto19731230
Hinds18881393
Harrison16780282
Rankin12787265
Jackson12643229
Lee9703161
Madison9484203
Jones8005147
Forrest7250138
Lauderdale6847227
Lowndes6033140
Lamar590980
Lafayette5747113
Washington5229130
Bolivar4620124
Oktibbeha442194
Panola432396
Pearl River4193132
Warren4138115
Pontotoc410771
Marshall404492
Monroe3993128
Union396474
Neshoba3822170
Lincoln3564104
Hancock350277
Leflore3389119
Sunflower319286
Tate303374
Pike301796
Scott295271
Alcorn292463
Yazoo290865
Itawamba290275
Coahoma282069
Tippah279565
Copiah279259
Simpson276680
Prentiss271158
Wayne254541
Leake253172
Marion252778
Covington249780
Grenada248578
Adams235078
George232445
Newton231252
Winston221979
Jasper213845
Tishomingo212965
Attala206870
Chickasaw201453
Holmes182770
Clay179251
Stone173029
Tallahatchie171439
Clarke169672
Calhoun158528
Smith153033
Yalobusha145536
Greene127933
Walthall124540
Noxubee123131
Montgomery122939
Perry122235
Lawrence120621
Carroll119025
Amite112235
Webster111132
Jefferson Davis102731
Tunica99523
Claiborne99129
Benton93924
Humphreys93027
Kemper90423
Quitman77414
Franklin76219
Choctaw69817
Jefferson62827
Wilkinson62427
Sharkey49117
Issaquena1676
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 498076

Reported Deaths: 10094
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson716711387
Mobile36294737
Madison32616468
Tuscaloosa24340421
Montgomery22739519
Shelby22174218
Baldwin19873289
Lee15039157
Calhoun13832293
Morgan13753254
Etowah13390325
Marshall11448211
Houston10124264
Elmore9483190
Limestone9420138
St. Clair9022227
Cullman8984182
Lauderdale8612214
DeKalb8489175
Talladega7606165
Walker6585259
Jackson6545104
Autauga632492
Blount6236127
Colbert6001121
Coffee5264103
Dale4671107
Russell406933
Franklin399878
Covington3993106
Chilton3898103
Escambia379173
Tallapoosa3622143
Clarke344053
Chambers3431111
Dallas3422142
Pike293373
Marion288695
Lawrence284985
Winston258368
Bibb246160
Geneva240370
Marengo238857
Pickens225457
Barbour213651
Hale212269
Fayette202057
Butler201466
Henry183541
Cherokee178039
Monroe166739
Randolph164840
Washington156836
Macon147745
Crenshaw146255
Clay145954
Cleburne139841
Lamar133733
Lowndes132751
Wilcox122925
Bullock117336
Conecuh107024
Perry106127
Sumter99732
Coosa90224
Greene88532
Choctaw55323
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