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Mississippi imposes 15-week abortion ban; nation's toughest

Abortion bill signed into law (Gov. Phil Bryant via Facebook)

Mississippi's governor signed the nation's most restrictive abortion law Monday — and was slapped with a lawsuit less than an hour later.

Posted: Mar 19, 2018 6:51 PM

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi's governor signed the nation's most restrictive abortion law Monday — and was slapped with a lawsuit less than an hour later.

The law and responding challenge set up a confrontation sought by abortion opponents, who are hoping federal courts will ultimately prohibit abortions before a fetus is viable. Current federal law does not.

Some legal experts have said a change in the law is unlikely unless the makeup of the U.S. Supreme Court changes in a way that favors abortion opponents.

Republican Gov. Phil Bryant signed House Bill 1510 , which bans most abortions after 15 weeks of gestation, on Monday in a closed ceremony attended by legislative supporters and abortion opponents.

"We are saving more of the unborn than any state in America and what better thing can we do?" Bryant said in a video his office posted on social media.

The law's only exceptions are if a fetus has health problems making it "incompatible with life" outside of the womb at full term, or if a pregnant woman's life or a "major bodily function" is threatened by pregnancy. Pregnancies resulting from rape and incest aren't exempted.

Mississippi previously tied with North Carolina for the nation's strictest abortion limits at 20 weeks. Both states count pregnancy as beginning on the first day of a woman's previous menstrual period. That means the restrictions kick in about two weeks before those of states whose 20-week bans begin at conception.

"We'll probably be sued in about half an hour," Bryant said to laughter from supporters as he signed the bill. "That'll be fine with me. It'll be worth fighting over."

Bryant's prediction was accurate. The state's only abortion clinic and one of the physicians who practices there sued in federal court within an hour, arguing the law violates other federal court rulings saying a state can't restrict abortion before a child can survive on its own outside the womb.

The Jackson Women's Health Organization, in a lawsuit handled by the Center of Reproductive Rights, argued the measure is unconstitutional and should immediately be struck down.

"Under decades of United States Supreme Court precedent, the state of Mississippi cannot ban abortion prior to viability, regardless of what exceptions are provided to the ban," the suit states.

The suit says the clinic performed 78 abortions in 2017 when the fetus was identified as being 15 weeks or older. That's out of about 2,500 abortions performed statewide, mostly at the clinic.

"Politicians are not above the rule of law, and we are confident this dangerous bill will be struck down like every similar attempt before it," said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights.

"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."

House Speaker Philip Gunn, who was present for Bryant's private signing ceremony, told The Associated Press he is proud Mississippi is taking steps to protect "the most vulnerable of human life:" the unborn.

"The winners (today) are those babies that are in the womb, first and foremost," Gunn said. "Those are the ones we're trying to protect."

Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves said in an email to the AP that HB 1510 is a major step toward accomplishing the state's goal to protect the lives of the unborn, adding that he is committed to making the state "the safest place in America for an unborn child."

When asked if the state is prepared to bear the cost of a lawsuit, Gunn said, "Absolutely."

"I don't know if you can put any value on human life," Gunn said. "We are all about fighting to protect the unborn. Whatever challenges we have to take on to do that, is something we're willing to do."

The bill was drafted with the assistance of conservative groups including the Mississippi Center for Public Policy and the Alliance Defending Freedom.

"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 Mississippi Center for Public Policy.

Both Republican-controlled chambers passed the bill overwhelmingly in early March, by a vote of 35-14 in the Senate and 76-34 in the House.

The U.S. Senate failed to pass a 20-week abortion ban bill in January. With 60 "yes" votes required to advance, the bill failed on a 51-46 vote.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 473413

Reported Deaths: 9214
CountyCasesDeaths
Harrison32339474
Hinds30703575
DeSoto29814346
Jackson23263336
Rankin21111358
Lee14600217
Madison14043265
Jones13165218
Forrest12953233
Lauderdale11418297
Lowndes10249175
Lamar10048128
Pearl River8737209
Lafayette8078136
Hancock7324111
Washington6837147
Oktibbeha6820118
Neshoba6404201
Monroe6372158
Warren6326161
Pontotoc610393
Panola6071124
Bolivar6016143
Marshall5972118
Union564086
Pike5491133
Lincoln5232130
Alcorn520888
George457868
Scott451993
Leflore4401140
Prentiss437276
Itawamba436198
Tippah436180
Simpson4268111
Copiah425586
Wayne424863
Tate4234100
Adams4219114
Yazoo415886
Sunflower4088104
Covington407391
Marion4032100
Leake393185
Coahoma388198
Newton364474
Grenada3517101
Stone345657
Tishomingo324888
Attala321185
Jasper310262
Winston300391
Clay288273
Chickasaw282164
Clarke277487
Calhoun259739
Holmes259485
Smith243947
Yalobusha216747
Tallahatchie215649
Walthall205557
Greene204045
Lawrence203831
Perry196453
Amite193751
Webster191941
Noxubee174538
Montgomery169853
Jefferson Davis165541
Carroll159937
Tunica148434
Benton139433
Kemper137439
Claiborne125634
Choctaw124925
Humphreys123337
Franklin115227
Quitman101825
Wilkinson99835
Jefferson86632
Sharkey62120
Issaquena1916
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 764839

Reported Deaths: 13048
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson1089971721
Mobile698041173
Madison48181574
Baldwin35619445
Shelby35053289
Tuscaloosa32903508
Montgomery32475655
Lee21787203
Calhoun19941374
Morgan19234315
Etowah18509422
Marshall17217258
Houston16028347
St. Clair14866275
Limestone14059179
Elmore13943241
Cullman13942234
Lauderdale13030266
Talladega12307211
DeKalb11829226
Walker10171306
Autauga9439124
Blount9357149
Jackson9055136
Coffee8625157
Colbert8287164
Dale8241151
Escambia6436103
Tallapoosa6353166
Covington6291154
Chilton6215129
Russell590154
Franklin561294
Chambers5211130
Dallas4610176
Marion4579114
Clarke449471
Pike448289
Geneva4223102
Winston404685
Lawrence4040101
Bibb394776
Barbour337067
Marengo319979
Monroe310346
Butler308483
Pickens298369
Randolph291655
Henry291455
Hale285281
Cherokee278249
Fayette270671
Washington242645
Crenshaw231664
Clay220761
Macon213254
Cleburne208746
Lamar186339
Conecuh176538
Lowndes168756
Coosa162531
Wilcox153934
Bullock146842
Perry134035
Sumter122935
Greene118541
Choctaw72225
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