Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, presents to reporters the House's position on their state income tax elimination legislation at the Mississippi Capitol in Jackson, Tuesday, March 15, 2022. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Mississippi House Speaker Philip Gunn called Friday’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling on a Mississippi case that overturned Roe vs. Wade abortion rights “probably the most historic day maybe in our lives” and “an end to this evil in our nation.”

Gunn, who helped push the Mississippi Legislature’s 2018 ban on abortions after 15 weeks — hoping at the time that it would result in a high court challenge and ruling — held a press conference from the well of the House on Friday, because “this is where this started.” He thanked members of the state House and Senate for passing the bill, former Gov. Phil Bryant for signing it into law, the U.S. Supreme Court for upholding it and “the millions of people who prayed for an end to this evil in our nation” among others.

Gunn said the high court decision will bring “new challenges” for Mississippi to make sure “those who are born have the resources they need.”

READ MORE: U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade

Mississippi, the poorest state in the nation, suffers from lack of prenatal and postnatal and all other forms of health care and has the highest infant mortality rate in the nation and one of the highest maternal death rates. It has also for years faced federal court decrees to address its substandard foster care and children’s services system.

Gunn has steadfastly opposed Medicaid expansion to cover the working poor in Mississippi and earlier this year torpedoed a Senate proposal to extend postpartum coverage for many Mississippi mothers. On Friday he said he will create “Speaker’s Commission on the Sanctity of Life” to address those resources and other issues for Mississippi mothers and children. He said he also expects churches in the state to step up and help.

READ MORE: Doctors asked Speaker Philip Gunn to extend health coverage for moms and babies. Then he blocked it

When peppered with questions about Medicaid expansion, postpartum coverage and lack of resources by media on Friday, Gunn said “All of those things you’re mentioning are things that will be on the table” with his new commission. But he did say he still opposes Medicaid expansion.

Mississippi has a 2007 “trigger law” on the books set to ban all abortions in the state once Roe vs. Wade protections are overturned. The law provides exceptions for saving the life of a mother and for for rape — if a police report has been made — but not for incest. Gunn said he does not foresee lawmakers revisiting that abortion ban law, for which he voted as a House member before becoming speaker.

Gunn said he does not believe abortions should be allowed in cases of incest.

“Personally, no, I do not,” Gunn said. “I believe life begins at conception … That is my personal belief.”

Gunn cut his press conference off as media asked numerous other questions.

“I want this day to be about Roe vs. Wade being overturned,” Gunn said. “We’re not going to go down that road today. We are not going after contraceptives — I’ve already made that clear — I think we are getting far afield and we can have discussions about those issues another time.”

READ MORE: Doctors asked Speaker Philip Gunn to extend health coverage for moms and babies. Then he blocked it

Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann, who has said he is at least open to discussion about Medicaid expansion and who pushed for postpartum coverage for mothers, in a statement Friday praised the court decision but said Mississippi has work to do in helping children and families. Members of the Senate have been working on the issues since a draft court opinion overturning Roe was leaked weeks ago.

“The Court’s decision today returns the right to protect the unborn to the states. Mississippi is a leader on this critical issue, with a law already in place which will prohibit abortion,” Hosemann said. “I am pro-life. I am also pro-child. In addition to protecting the unborn, we must also focus on other ways to support women, children, and families.”

Gov. Tate Reeves, who presided over the Senate as lieutenant governor when Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban was passed, in a statement called Friday “a joyous day.”

“Tomorrow, we will wake to a new world, enthusiastically prepared to take on the challenges ahead and to take every step necessary to support mothers and children,” Reeves said. “We must remember that our work is not yet over. The pro-life movement must dedicate itself to ensuring mothers and their babies receive the support they both need during pregnancy and after.”

Reeves, like Gunn, has for many years opposed Medicaid expansion despite pleas from hospitals, doctors and advocacy groups and has not offered any major alternative proposals to help the state’s substandard health care.

State Rep. Becky Currie, R-Brookhaven, who authored the House 15-week abortion ban that led to the Supreme Court overturning Roe, said lawmakers should have extended postpartum Medicaid coverage and should be working to help mothers and children.

Currie said Gunn blocked the postpartum bill from a vote fearing he could be painted as a supporter of Medicaid expansion in future political races.

“Mississippi government is run by three men who want to see who can pee the furthest,” Currie said.

Currie said Mississippi should re-invest in Department of Health clinics — many of which were shuttered or limited years ago during state budget cuts — and provide other programs for women. Considering Mississippi’s track record for policies supporting women’s health and economic security, Currie said she understands people’s skepticism.

“I wrote the bill to end abortion, but I’m fighting just as hard to take care of women,” Currie said.

Staff writer Anna Wolfe contributed to this article.

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Geoff Pender serves as senior political reporter, working closely with Mississippi Today leadership on editorial strategy and investigations. Pender brings 30 years of political and government reporting experience to Mississippi Today. He was political and investigative editor at the Clarion Ledger, where he also penned a popular political column. He previously served as an investigative reporter and political editor at the Sun Herald, where he was a member of the Pulitzer Prize-winning team for Hurricane Katrina coverage. Originally from Florence, Mississippi, Pender is a journalism graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi and has received numerous awards throughout his career for reporting, columns and freedom of information efforts.