The House of Representatives passed a 15-week abortion ban by a wide margin Friday afternoon, setting the stage for Mississippi to become the first state to ban the procedure three weeks into a woman’s second trimester.
Defending the legislation, Rep. Becky Currie, R-Brookhaven, said prohibiting abortion after 15 weeks still gives a woman plenty of time to decide whether she wants to keep the child.
“At that time, it’s time to decide whether you’re going to carry that child or not,” Currie said.
Gov. Phil Bryant has frequently expressed support for limiting access to abortions, saying in his State of the State speech in 2014, “My goal is to end abortions in Mississippi.”
Bryant echoed this sentiment Friday after the bill passed out of the House.
“As I have repeatedly said, I want Mississippi to be the safest place in America for an unborn child. House Bill 1510 will help us achieve that goal, and I am grateful the House passed it. I look forward to signing it once the Senate follows suit,” Bryant said.
The bill passed the House by a vote of 79 to 30, largely along party lines, and support is likely to be similarly strong in the Senate, which also has a Republican majority.
“Mississippi is fortunate to have leaders who are pro-life, people who want to protect the lives of a mother and her young child,” said Ron Matis, chairman of the Mississippi Advisory Council on Faith-
In 2014, Mississippi joined a handful of other states in banning abortions after 20 weeks, with exceptions for the life and health of the mother and fetus. This 15-week ban would include similar exceptions.
Currently no state in the country has an abortion ban before 20 weeks gestation. If Mississippi’s 15 week-ban is signed into law, the state will likely become the first — and likely be subjected to a constitutional challenge.
“If it passes, I can guarantee there will be a constitutional challenge to this,” said Rep. Adrienne Wooten, D-Jackson, who spoke out against the bill.
In 2015, the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down an Arkansas law that banned abortion at 12 weeks of pregnancy. The judges said the appeals court was bound by a 1992 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that upheld the right to choose an abortion before viability. A fetus is generally not considered viable before 20 weeks.
The Mississippi bill’s surprising debut on the House floor Friday afternoon mirrored its last-minute appearance in the Judiciary B committee when it passed hours before Tuesday’s committee deadline.
Although representatives touched on Constitutional issues, the debate on the floor centered largely on the bill’s necessity, with those in favor arguing that banning abortions at 15 weeks would protect the health of the woman and the fetus.
Those legislators opposed to the bill argued it represented misplaced priorities for the state, which they said continually overlooked more important women’s health concerns.
“If you were concerned about real health care, why aren’t we trying to expand the Affordable Care Act, so we could get actual coverage for these women? Why not have quality health care for people’s lives?” Rep. John Hines, D-Greenville, asked Rep. Andy Gipson, R-Braxton, who presented the bill.
Gipson said the state had a “compelling and legitimate interest in protecting lives, including the lives of the unborn and the lives of the mothers.”
The debate frequently turned back to the issue of a woman’s right to decide whether to have a child versus what supporters of the legislation called a fetus’s “right to life.”
“Why would you force a woman to have a child when she has not decided she wants to have that child? What right does the state have to make her have that child,” Wooten asked Currie during a heated exchange.
“I do believe that life is precious and children are a gift from God,” Currie said. “And if you have a child and don’t want it there is someone else who does want it.”
“Then why do we have children in Child Protection Services that can’t be placed? We have children who age out of the system because no one wants them,” Wooten responded, citing the 6,000 children currently in Mississippi’s foster care system.
Currie didn’t immediately respond to Wooten’s comments on foster care, but she circled back to the subject during closing comments on the bill.
“All those children who were born in an unhappy situation, do you actually think that they would have been better off dead? Do we really think that all those babies aren’t glad they’re alive? I think they are, and I’d like you to vote for this bill.”