JACKSON, Miss. – Mississippi's Republican-led Legislature is trying to restrict the reasons women may seek abortion, after federal courts blocked time limitations that the state tried to put on the procedure the past two years.
Abortion would be prohibited if a woman is seeking one because of the race, sex or genetic abnormality of the fetus, under a bill that passed a state House committee Tuesday. The only exception would be in case of a medical emergency. Other states have been sued over similar laws, and opponents questioned whether Mississippi is inviting another lawsuit over abortion.
House Bill 1295 moves to the full House for more debate.
“We have had a solid record of supporting pro-life measures, and we wanted to continue that,” House Judiciary B Committee Chairman Nick Bain, a Republican from Corinth, said in explaining why his committee passed the bill.
Anyone who performs an abortion because of race, sex or genetic abnormality could face one year to 10 years in prison. The woman having the abortion would not face penalties.
Democratic Rep. Sonya Williams-Barnes of Gulfport voted against the bill.
“Women should have a right to make a choice for themselves whether they want to have a child or not,” Williams-Barnes said after the committee meeting.
She questioned whether women would even know about potential genetic abnormalities early enough in a pregnancy to consider abortion. Mississippi law bans abortion at 20 weeks, about the midpoint of a full-term pregnancy.
Speaking of the genetic abnormality portion of the bill, Williams-Barnes said: “My concern is, you make the woman have the child that has these deficiencies, but yet are you going to give her any medical aid or home care assistance for the child?"
As of February, nine states have banned abortion based on the sex, two have banned it based on race and two have banned it when the fetus might have a genetic anomaly, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports abortion rights.
Missouri is the only state that has banned all three. Kentucky's ban on all three reasons has been put on hold by court order.
Mississippi has long required a 24-hour waiting period for abortion. Minors also must obtain permission from their parents or a judge.
In 2018, Mississippi tried to enact a law that would ban most abortions at 15 weeks. The state's only abortion clinic sued soon after a bill was signed by then-Gov. Phil Bryant, a Republican. A federal district judge blocked the law from taking effect.
The same judge issued a more extensive ruling later, saying the 15-week ban is unconstitutional because it would prohibit abortion before viability, the point at which a fetus could survive outside the pregnant woman. A federal appeals court agreed with the district judge's ruling, and state officials have said they will ask the U.S. Supreme Court to consider the case.
With the addition of conservative justices to the U.S. Supreme Court in recent years, Mississippi is one of several states that have enacted abortion restrictions. Some laws are aimed at spurring court challenges seeking to overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion nationwide.
Even as the legal fight over Mississippi's 15-week ban was still underway, the state's legislators passed a bill last year to ban most abortions once fetal cardiac activity can be detected, which can be at about six weeks — before some women know they are pregnant. Bryant signed the bill, which would have been one of the strictest abortion laws in the U.S.
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