February 27, 2014 11:09:16 AM
JACKSON -- A bill to ban abortion after 20 weeks' gestation is advancing to the full Mississippi Senate for more debate later.
The Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee passed House Bill 1400 on Wednesday. It cleared the House 89-22 on Feb. 13.
Twenty weeks is halfway through a full-term pregnancy of 40 weeks. The bill says exceptions to the 20-week ban would be made to prevent permanent physical damage or death of the pregnant woman, or in cases of several fetal abnormalities.
Sen. Joey Fillingane, R-Sumrall, explained the bill during Wednesday's brief committee meeting. Sen. Briggs Hopson, R-Vicksburg, asked whether the exception for severe fetal abnormalities would allow later abortions if a doctor determines the fetus has no chance to live.
"I've seen situations where the parents have been told, 'Your child may be born alive but will certainly die,' " Hopson said.
Fillingane replied: "That falls under this" exception.
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.