March 29, 2013 11:00:56 AM
JACKSON -- Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant says he wants senators to confirm his nomination of anti-abortion activist Terri Herring to the state Board of Health, but a top lawmaker said it's unclear whether Herring will receive enough support.
"I think Terri is someone who has committed her life to women's health care and the right to life," Republican Bryant said Thursday in response to reporters' questions.
Senate Public Health Committee Chairman Dean Kirby, R-Pearl, said in a separate interview that Herring's nomination is likely to come up for a vote in a subcommittee early next week. Kirby said he can't predict whether the nomination will survive there, in the full committee or in the full Senate. Ultimately, confirmation would require a simple majority in the 52-member Senate.
"It appears it will be a very close vote," Kirby told The Associated Press on Thursday. "I have been told by some senators -- they feel like she is a one-issue person and she is not well-informed on other public health issues."
The 11-member board oversees the state Department of Health, including appointing its director. The board also approves the state health plan and sets rules and regulations for the department. Bryant nominated Herring for a six-year term, starting July 1.
Herring, 54, of Ridgeland, has lobbied for stricter abortion laws in Mississippi since the mid-1980s. As head of Pro Life America Network, she is pushing this year for a bill that would put new restrictions on abortion-inducing drugs.
The secretary of state's website shows Herring first registered as a lobbyist on March 13, after Bryant had already nominated her to the Board of Health.
Bryant said when he was state auditor, from 1996 to 2008, Herring approached him with concerns about women who were experiencing problems after abortion. Bryant was unable to name any other health-related issues in which Herring has been active.
"I think she has every right to serve and I have every right as governor to appoint her," Bryant said.
In a news release Thursday, Herring said she and her husband, Clint Herring, own TrustCare, a Ridgeland clinic that provides walk-in care and occupational therapy. The news release also says the Herrings, since 1984, have run Kerioth Corporation, a real estate development firm that has built several upscale commercial sites in the Jackson area, including The Township at Colony Park in Madison County. The Herrings also started The Club fitness centers, which have a partnership with St. Dominic Health Services.
Herring in 2012 lobbied for a law that requires anyone performing abortions at an abortion clinic to be a physician with privileges to admit patients to a local hospital. The state's only abortion clinic, Jackson Women's Health Organization, has been unable to obtain the privileges for its out-of-state physicians. The clinic filed a federal lawsuit last summer to challenge the law, and that suit is awaiting trial.
The clinic is scheduled for an April 18 administrative hearing before the state Board of Health, to appeal the state Health Department's intent to revoke the clinic's license because of failure to obtain the admitting privileges. The clinic remains open.
Bryant said Thursday that he thinks it would be acceptable for Herring to vote on the clinic's license revocation appeal, if she joins the Board of Health while the matter is still undecided.
Kirby said he has received more email messages, phone calls, text messages and letters about Herring's nomination than he has receive for all other nominations, combined, that he has handled during his 18 years as a Senate chairman. The messages are about evenly split, for and against Herring's confirmation, he said.
"The ones that want her, strongly want her," Kirby said. "The ones that oppose her, strongly oppose her."
State law says the Board of Health must be made up of five currently licensed physicians and six people with a background or interest in public health. Bryant nominated her as a person with a background or interest in public health.