Key state Democrats helped pass 2007 law to ban abortions if Roe overturned

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Jordan Uhl, Flickr

A protest outside the U.S. Supreme Court in 2016 about an abortion restrictions law passed in Texas.

If President Donald Trump’s new nominee to the United States Supreme Court leads to the reversal of Roe v. Wade, an existing state law will be triggered prohibiting abortion in most instances in Mississippi.

The law, which would permit abortions only when the mother’s life is at risk and in cases of rape, was passed in 2007 by the Mississippi Legislature. Two of the legislators who played a key role in passage of the law are former Rep. Jamie Franks of Mooreville, who later served as chairman of the state Democratic Party, and Rep. Steve Holland, D-Plantersville.

At the time Holland was chair of the House Public Health Committee. Holland said when the legislation was passed out of his committee he was “fed up” with the multiple “not picky” bills anti-abortion advocates were trying to pass to limit abortions in the state.

“I thought we will settle this once and for all (by introducing legislation to ban abortions if Roe was overturned.) You don’t have to introduce another bill,” Holland said he told anti-abortion  advocates.

The issue has come to the forefront with U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy’s announcement that he is retiring. Kennedy was a key swing vote on the court on many issues. Some observers say a new Trump appointee could lead to the reversal of the Roe v. Wade decision made in the early 1970s guaranteeing a woman’s right to an abortion.

Mississippi is one of four states with laws in place that immediately make abortion illegal if Roe v. Wade is overturned, according to a study by the Center for Reproductive Rights. The other states are Louisiana and North and South Dakota.

In 2007, late on a deadline day, Holland called a meeting of his Public Health Committee. He called up for consideration a bill dealing with parental notification before a minor could receive an abortion. Franks then added the amendment banning all abortions.

The law reads that it would go into effect “10 days following the date of publication by the attorney general of Mississippi that the attorney general has determined that the United States Supreme Court has overruled the decision of Roe v. Wade, and that it is reasonably probable that this section would be upheld by the Court as constitutional.”

Michelle Liu, Mississippi Today

The Jackson Women’s Health Organization clinic in the city’s Fondren neighborhood, pictured June 28, 2018.

One clinic, the Jackson Women’s Health Organization, performs abortions in the state. Holland is not pleased with the possibility of abortion being banned in Mississippi even though he played a key role in passing the 2007 bill.

“I have always thought women should decide that issue. As far as liking abortion, I don’t. I don’t think anybody does,” he said.

But Franks, who served three terms in the state House representing portions of Lee, Itawamba and Tishomingo counties, and was the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor in 2007 said he was then and remains anti-abortion.

“I am a pro-life Democrat,” said Franks, who served as chair of the state Democratic Party in the 2000s and is current chair of the Lee County Democratic Executive Committee. “I believe we should value life.

He added: “The difference between me and Republicans is that Republicans believe we should protect life until we get them here, but do not want to protect life after that.”

Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves told Mississippi Today: “I am committed to making Mississippi the safest place in America for an unborn child. This 2007 state law combined with President Trump’s commitment to appoint conservatives to the U.S. Supreme Court mean Mississippi will continue to provide the strongest protections for the lives of unborn children in America.”

Gov. Phil Bryant said, “As I have repeatedly said, I want Mississippi to be the safest place in American for an unborn child by ending abortion here.”

Jameson Taylor, vice president for public policy for Mississippi Center for Public Policy, which has worked in the state Legislature to limit access to abortions, said the 2007 law “is not the type of law I tend to support. It is pretty abstract.”

Ultimately, Taylor said he does not think the Supreme Court – even with a new Trump appointee – would reverse Roe v Wade, but instead “move toward common sense protection,” in his view, such as limiting the amount of time where an abortion could be performed.

Laurie Roberts, co-founder and executive director of the Mississippi Reproductive Freedom Fund, said she is familiar with the 2007 law. And fears Mississippi “will be in an abortion desert” because surrounding states will follow Mississippi and ban abortion and only wealthy people who can “fly someplace” will have access to an abortion.

She also said the 15-week abortion ban approved during the 2018 Mississippi legislative session is a new law that could result in a challenge that leads to the reversal of Roe.

Terri Herring, an anti-abortion lobbyist in Mississippi, said she remembers when the 2007 law was passed and that it could go into effect if Roe v. Wade is overturned. She also said there are multiple other Mississippi laws placing restrictions on abortions that have been blocked by the courts but could go into effect if the Court with a new justice stops short of overturning Roe, but does give states more authority to limit abortions.

“Make no mistake – the right to access abortion in this country is on the line,” said Staci Fox, chief executive officer of Planned Parenthood Southeast. She urged “the Senate to reject any nominee who would strip people’s individual rights and freedoms.”