Slimantics: Gibbs case is about abortion, not murder

March 20, 2014 10:13:07 AM

Slim Smith - [email protected]


It has been 41 years since the landmark Supreme Court Roe v. Wade ruling that barred states from outlawing abortion. 


While the Supreme Court is generally considered to be the final arbiter in our judicial system, the litigation over abortion didn't end with Roe v. Wade. In fact, that decision has proven to be just the beginning. 


Ever since the ruling, abortion foes have been probing Roe v. Wade, diligently seeking ways to attack the decision on what they perceive to be the weakest flank. 


Nowhere have those efforts been more consistently pursued than in Mississippi. Each year, it seems, new abortion legislation is presented. In 2012, at the behest of Gov. Phil Bryant, the legislature passed a law that required any doctor performing abortions in the state to have admitting privileges at a Mississippi hospital, which would have effectively closed the state's lone abortion clinic. The law was presented under the pretense of ensuring the safety of women who might be seeking abortions. The real motive, one that Bryant did little to conceal, was to end abortions in the state. The clinic continues to operate as a court challenge proceeds. The Fifth U.S. Circuit Court will begin hearing the case in April. 


That case is but one of the challenges the Legislature has employed in the fight to reverse Roe v. Wade. 


In 2010, a Personhood Amendment was defeated at the polls by a wide margin. Even so, there are plans to put a similar Personhood Amendment on the ballot in November. 


Likewise, in this year's session, the Legislature passed a bill that would make it illegal to perform an abortion 20 weeks after conception, four weeks before the medical standard for a fetus to survive outside the womb. A similar bill in Arizona was struck down in Arizona, but there are several other states who have 20-week laws on the books.  


Finally here in Columbus, Circuit Judge Jim Kitchens is expected to rule on whether the state can continue to pursue murder charges against Rennie Gibbs, who at age 16, gave birth to a stillborn baby. Gibbs had admitted to smoking crack cocaine during her pregnancy. 


In truth, the Gibbs case is more about abortion law than murder.  


How is that? 


In every case mentioned in this column, the real motive is an effort to give legal status to a fetus.  


If, after all, a mother can be held liable for the death of a fetus (Gibbs case), if a fetus can be given status (Personhood Amendment), if a fetus that cannot survive outside the womb can be protected under state law (20-week abortion law), the foundation of Roe vs. Wade begins to erode.  


That is not to say, however, these tactics will prevail. 


In fact, each of these acts will certainly face challenges in the federal courts. 


Each year, the Legislature presents laws that seek to challenge Roe v. Wade. To date, every one of those laws has failed to withstand judicial scrutiny. 


That, of course, does not mean that our legislators will relent. 


The battle will continue, as it has since 1973. 


ProPublica has done an investigative piece on this case: 


Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]