In a long running dispute between pro and anti abortion groups, it appears Mississippi’s HB 151, known as the Gestational Age Act, recently passed by the Mississippi House, in a 75 to 34 vote, is set to become the newest and strictest abortion law in the country. It rolls back the current allowable abortion from 20 weeks to 15 weeks. Governor Phil Bryant has pledged to sign the legislation, and has noted he is eager to do so.
The heatedly debated legislation does include exceptions regarding major health concerns for the mother, as well as the possibility the fetus is unlikely to survive outside of the womb. It does not include exemptions in cases of rape or incest, according to reports.
This bill is seen by abortion rights advocates as a potential test of the legal limits of abortion. It will not be first time the Mississippi legislature has tested the limits of legal limits.
According to reports, Adrienne Kimmell, vice president of communications and strategic research for the national nonprofit NARAL Pro-Choice America, said the bill brings Mississippi women “one dangerous step closer to losing their constitutional right to access abortion.”
On the side of the issue, pro-life and many in the Mississippi legislature believe this bill is a step in the right direction in protecting women and the lives of unborn children.
“We are protecting more women, we are protecting more children,” said Republican House Judiciary B Committee Chairman Andy Gipson. “By 15 weeks, you have a child in the womb who has a heartbeat, who for all practical purposes has taken on the form of a person.”
According to the bill, women who violate the law could face criminal charges. Additionally, included in the bill, doctors who perform abortions on women who are more than 15 weeks pregnant could lose their license to practice medicine and face other civil penalties.
The State of Mississippi currently only has one abortion clinic serving the entire state.
In Mississippi, the following restrictions on abortion were in effect as of January 1, 2018:
- Abortion would be banned if Roe v. Wade were to be overturned.
- A woman must receive state-directed counseling that includes information designed to discourage her from having an abortion, and then wait 24 hours before the procedure is provided. Counseling must be provided in person and must take place before the waiting period begins, thereby necessitating two trips to the facility.
- Health plans offered in the state’s health exchange under the Affordable Care Act can only cover abortion if the woman’s life is endangered, or in cases of rape or incest.
- Abortion is covered in insurance policies for public employees only in cases of life endangerment, rape, incest or fetal abnormality.
- The use of telemedicine to administer medication abortion is prohibited.
- The parents of a minor must consent before an abortion is provided.
- Public funding is available for abortion only in cases of life endangerment, rape, incest or fetal impairment.
- A woman must undergo an ultrasound before obtaining an abortion; the provider must offer her the option to view the image.
- An abortion may be performed at 18 or more weeks postfertilization (20 weeks after the woman’s last menstrual period) only if the woman’s life is endangered, her physical health is severely compromised or there is a lethal fetal anomaly. This law is based on the assertion, which is not consistent with scientific evidence and has been rejected by the medical community, that a fetus can feel pain at that point in pregnancy.
In 2016 the Mississippi State Department of Health reports that 2,659 abortions took place in Mississippi during 2016. This number includes abortions performed on out-of-state residents but does not include abortions performed on Mississippi residents in other states.