Missy McGee (R-Hattiesburg) is a relatively new face in the Legislature and just finished her second year in the House of Representatives.

Missy McGee (R-Hattiesburg) is a relatively new face in the Mississippi House of Representatives. She just finished her second year and says, while her priority is funding and strengthening Hattiesburg and her alma mater, the University of Southern Mississippi, she also wants to focus on quality of life issues for families across the state. She has supported legislation requiring insurers to cover infertility treatment, bring home care nurse programs to new moms and slow brain drain through tax incentives. She made waves the last session by voting no on the six-week abortion ban — the only Republican to do so.

Erica Hensley, editor of Mississippi Today’s Inform[H]er newsletter, sat down with McGee recently to talk about these issues:

Can you tell me about specific bills you’ve worked on that you feel would benefit Mississippi families?

In 2018, I was the lead author on a bill that would require insurance companies to add infertility coverage to their coverage, up to a lifetime max of $25,000. It’s very rare for an insurance company to cover infertility treatment, and we’re not just talking about IVF (in vitro fertilization), we’re talking about any kind of infertility work. I come from my personal background on that but, it is amazing how many people this affects.

(Editor’s note: Research suggests about 10 percent of couples have infertility issues and that assisted reproductive technology, including IVF, is used in about one in 65 births).

That bill had been dropped several years before I got there. So, here comes the new girl, and I have two IVF children, so it just seemed perfect that we have a woman legislator who has gone through that experience. That bill passed the House with bipartisan support, but it did die in the Senate. This year, I dropped the bill again then we heard from the insurance industry that they were going to try to find a way to voluntarily cover this without a legislative requirement.

They’ve got the rest of the year to hopefully make that happen. Women who are suffering infertility all throughout the state have contacted me via email and it really broke my heart when the bill died because I think there was finally some hope for these women who just want (help) … Insurance covers so many other things that you could put in this same category, but why doesn’t it cover this?

Speaking of being the new girl, how do you approach being a new face and navigating the halls as one of the few women representing the state?

It was certainly a leap of faith for me because it was something I had never considered before. Interestingly, my eighth predecessor was Evelyn Gandy, who was eventually elected lieutenant governor. She was elected to my seat in 1947; it’s very meaningful to me. I think, at the time, there were only two women in the House — can you imagine? I think about this so often — what it must have felt like 70 years ago to run for office when it was unheard of. She served in my seat, and I’m the first woman since her. I would love to be able to ask her — if she was still living — what she thinks about the fact that out of 122 members of the House, there are only 15 women.

I don’t like to set myself apart. I want to be viewed as just a legislator. I have had people tell me things such as, “You could be a strong woman legislator.” I don’t want to be thought of that way. I want to be just a strong legislator — a leader, period. I don’t want to be a leader of the women. I want to be a leader for my district first and foremost, and, then, a member of the Legislature that creates good policy for Mississippi to move us forward.

That’s a perfect segue into what is your most recent and public example of that — your vote on the abortion bill. How did you arrive at that decision and what has the response been?

In 2018, we passed the 15-week abortion bill, which I voted for. That bill, as you know, is still moving through the courts. I felt like that we should see what happens with that 15-week bill, which is still one of the more restrictive abortion bills up until this year.A six-week bill is just too short of a time period to allow women to know what to do, when many women do not even realize they are pregnant at six weeks. To not have any exceptions for rape or incest, or to give adequate time to know if there is a severe fetal abnormality that is inconsistent with life. What I mean by that is there is no happy ending, no baby to bring home in the end, no baby to put up for adoption — I just could not support such a restrictive bill that did not allow for those exceptions.

What do you think Mississippi needs right now?

More of what we already talked about. I think we need to pass bills that reflect that we are a positive state, that we welcome diversity, that we celebrate diversity and financial issues like good-paying jobs for young people. We want there to be good quality of life and an atmosphere of being a place where you want to make a life for yourself. I believe Mississippi is that, we’ve just got to show our young people that they can definitely make a life for themselves here.

I want to do what I can to keep that local (Hattiesburg) momentum going. I have learned a lot and have a lot to learn. I want to move things forward for the city that I love and also for the state. I think we get a bad rap nationally and I want to move us off of that place … It’s a great state and we have a complicated history. It’s always going to be our history and hopefully we have moved past some of that. Obviously, we have moved past some of that. But, we’re still holding on to symbols of the past and some of the things we do. We just can’t get out of own way.

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Erica Hensley, a native of Atlanta, has been working as an investigative reporter focusing on public health for Mississippi Today since May 2018. She is a Knight Foundation fellow for our newsroom’s collaboration with local TV station WLBT and curates The Inform[H]er, our monthly women and girls’ newsletter. She is the 2019 recipient of the Doris O'Donnell Innovations in Investigative Journalism Fellowship. Erica received a bachelor’s in print journalism and political science from the University of Southern California Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism and a master’s in health and medical journalism from the University of Georgia Grady College for Journalism and Mass Communication.