Mary Catherine George, of St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church, holds a protest sign outside of the Jackson Women’s Health Organization Tuesday, March 19, 2019.

After Democrats declined to speak out against the legislation, the Senate easily passed its heartbeat abortion ban Tuesday, sending the session’s most controversial bill to the governor’s desk with no debate.

Fifteen Democrats voted against the legislation, which would ban abortion as early as a woman’s sixth week of pregnancy. Back in February, when the bill initially landed on the Senate floor, lawmakers in both parties had held up the vote for nearly an hour, with Democrats arguing the bill would outlaw abortions before many women even knew they were pregnant.

Sen. Deborah Dawkins, D-Pass Christian, one of bill’s most vocal opponents in February, said there was a feeling among Democrats that any opposition now was futile, though the senator did vote “hell no” when her name was called today.

“I’ve debated it and debated it and debated it for years,” Dawkins said, referring to the series of abortion bills taken up by the Legislature over the last decade. “And I don’t mind doing it again, but it seems to fall on deaf ears.”

The bill will now move on to the governor’s desk. Gov. Phil Bryant, who has repeatedly vowed to make Mississippi “the safest place in America for an unborn child” said he plans to sign this legislation. The governor’s office did not respond to a request for comment, but shortly after it passed, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, who is running for governor this year, voiced his support for the bill in an emailed release.

“Mississippians value the sanctity of life and expect their elected leaders to fight for those beliefs,” Reeves said. “A beating heart clearly means life has begun and should be protected.”

If this bill passes, Mississippi will have the most restrictive abortion policy in the United States, though similar legislation is currently alive in more than half a dozen other Republican-majority states, like Tennessee, Ohio and Georgia. This year judges in Kentucky and Iowa struck down fetal heartbeat bills recently enacted in those states.

Originally, the House and Senate had each passed their own fetal heartbeat abortion bills, but the House’s bill died on the Senate floor last week. The senate bill passed today, however, contains the House language which Sen. Joey Fillingane, R-Sumrall, said “strips out a lot of extraneous language (in the original senate bill) and boils it down to the basics.”

Last week Senate Bill 2116 easily passed the House, too, by a vote of 78 to 37, with only one Republican, Rep. Missy McGee, R-Hattiesburg, opposing the legislation.

“As we’ve seen on the House side and the Senate side, the Republican leadership and the Republican majority, they have the votes. And whether it’s the right thing to do, they have the votes,” said Sen. Derrick Simmons, D-Greenville, explaining why he had declined to debate the bill today after arguing against it back in February. “And there was no need to engage in another floor fight when it’s highly unlikely that a compromise will be reached.”

Of the states that have passed fetal heartbeat bills, none have withstood constitutional scrutiny. And in December, a federal judge also deemed Mississippi’s less restrictive 15-week ban, passed during the 2018 legislative session, unconstitutional.

But Sen. Joey Fillingane, R-Sumrall, and Rep. Sam Mims, R-McComb, who presented the Senate and House bills, respectively, told Mississippi Today in February that President Donald Trump’s recent appointment of Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court could change the definition of “constitutional.”

“Yes, absolutely it was a factor,” Fillingane told Mississippi Today after the vote. “The appointment of Justice (Neil) Gorsuch (in 2017) didn’t really change anything politically because you were replacing one very conservative justice with another very conservative justice. But then when Justice Kennedy announced his retirement plans and Justice Kavanaugh was ultimately seated, then I think people on the right—and left—started thinking, ‘Oh my goodness. What does the new court look like from a political and ideological standpoint.’”

Mississippi lawmakers have introduced fetal heartbeat abortion bills every legislative session since 2012. But prior to this year, all of these bills had died in committee.

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Larrison Campbell

Larrison Campbell

Larrison Campbell is a Greenville native who reports on politics with an emphasis on public health. She received a bachelor’s from Wesleyan University and a master’s from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.Larrison is a 2018 National Press Foundation fellow in public health, a 2019 Blue Cross Blue Shield Foundation of Massachusetts fellow in health care reporting and a 2019 Center for Health Journalism National Fellow.