February 14, 2014 10:43:09 AM
JACKSON -- The Mississippi House on Thursday advanced a proposal to ban abortions after 20 weeks, the midpoint of a full-term pregnancy.
House Bill 1400 passed on an 89-22 vote, and the bill moves to the Senate.
Exceptions would be made to prevent permanent physical damage or death of the pregnant woman, or in cases of several fetal abnormalities. The House rejected a proposal to make exceptions for pregnancies caused by rape or incest.
The most recent Health Department statistics show 2,176 abortions were done in Mississippi in 2012. Two were listed at 21 weeks or later, and 382 were listed as unknown gestational age.
Diane Derzis, who owns Mississippi's only abortion clinic, told The Associated Press this month that the proposed change wouldn't affect the facility, Jackson Women's Health Organization. She said the facility stops doing abortions after 16 weeks, and before an abortion is done, a sonogram is performed and the patient is told the gestational age of the fetus.
Derzis said she'd expect someone to file a legal challenge if a 20-week ban becomes law.
Several states have a 20-week ban, including Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas.
In January, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected Arizona's attempt to revive a 20-week ban that was blocked by a federal appeals court. The appeals court ruled that the Arizona law violates a woman's constitutionally protected right to terminate a pregnancy before a fetus is able to survive outside the womb. Viability of a fetus is generally considered to start at 24 weeks.
"We need this bill to protect the unborn who cannot speak," Judiciary B Chairman Andy Gipson, R-Braxton, said as he explained the bill to the House.
Rep. Adrienne Wooten, D-Jackson, repeatedly questioned Gipson why the bill would not make exceptions for children who are impregnated through rape or incest.
"That child has been stigmatized and has been told they are not to tell anyone," Wooten said, speaking of sexual abuse.
Rep. Toby Barker, R-Hattiesburg, who described himself as "pro-life," offered an amendment that to make exceptions for pregnancies caused by rape or incest, saying he can't imagine what it's like to be a woman or a victim of sexual abuse.
"I think there are situations where people struggle through it and there's some gray area," Barker said of unplanned pregnancies.
Gipson said the amendment would result in an expansion of abortion and "an unknown number of lives being lost in the most cruel manner."
Barker responded: "I'm not going to turn this into some sort of litmus test to how pro-life someone is."
The House rejected Barker's proposal, with 73 voting against it and 40 for it.
More than half of the abortions reported in Mississippi in 2012 -- 1,121 out of 2,176 -- were done at under nine weeks' gestation.
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