Editor’s note: This article was first published by Mississippi Today on June 29, 2018. We are republishing it as the U.S. Supreme Court considers whether to overturn Roe v. Wade based on the 2018 abortion ban passed by Mississippi lawmakers in 2018. Some phrasing has been updated.
If the U.S. Supreme Court overturns 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 former Rep. Steve Holland, a Democrat from 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 “nitpicky” 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 came to the forefront in 2018 with U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy’s announcement that he was retiring. Kennedy was a key swing vote on the court on many issues. Some observers say a new Trump appointed judge could lead to the reversal of the Roe v. Wade decision made in the early 1970s guaranteeing a woman’s right to an abortion. (Editor’s note: Trump appointed Brett Kavanaugh in 2018 to replace Justice Kennedy. He appointed Amy Coney Barrett in 2020 to replace Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.)
Mississippi is one of more than 20 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 “trigger laws,” as they are called, were mostly passed within the past 5-10 years. Mississippi was the third state to pass its trigger law.
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.”
Just one clinic, the Jackson Women’s Health Organization, performs abortions in the state. Holland, in 2018, told Mississippi Today he was not pleased with the possibility of abortion being banned in Mississippi even though he played a key role in passing the 2007 trigger law.
“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.”
Tate Reeves, who was formerly lieutenant governor but now serves as governor, told Mississippi Today in 2018: “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.”
Former 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, former vice president for public policy for Mississippi Center for Public Policy, which has worked for years 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 in 2018 he did 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 in 2018 she feared 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 predicted in 2018 that the 15-week abortion ban approved during the 2018 Mississippi legislative session could result in a challenge that leads to the reversal of Roe — a prophecy that was fulfilled as the U.S. Supreme Court is now deliberating whether to reverse the precedent based on Mississippi’s defense of that 2018 law.