January 31, 2018 10:02:26 AM
JACKSON -- Mississippi could become the first U.S. state to try to ban most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, setting up a possible court challenge.
A committee on Tuesday approved House Bill 1510, sending it to the full Republican-controlled House for more debate.
Mississippi already bans most abortions after 20 weeks after a woman's last menstrual period, which is tied with North Carolina for the nation's earliest ban according to the Guttmacher Institute, a group which opposes abortion restrictions.
The bill would allow exceptions if a fetus wouldn't survive outside the womb, or when the woman is threatened with death or permanent impairment of a "major bodily function." Those are the same exceptions in the current 20-week ban.
House Judiciary B Committee Chairman Andy Gipson, a Braxton Republican, said Mississippi wants to prevent women from being adversely affected by abortion.
"The risk to the mother is the prime driver in this bill," said Gipson, who is a lawyer and Baptist minister. "I think the Supreme Court has recognized that the states have an interest in protecting human life."
Gipson noted that no one had legally challenged Mississippi's 20-week ban, but Diane Derzis, who owns the state's only abortion clinic in Jackson, has said she passed on a challenge because her Jackson Women's Health Organization didn't perform abortions after 20 weeks. However, she said Tuesday that her clinic does perform abortions for about three weeks past the new proposed ban.
"It would absolutely affect our operations," Derzis said of the new proposal.
Felicia Brown-Williams, state director for Planned Parenthood Advocates Southeast, calls the proposal unconstitutional, saying the U.S. Supreme Court won't allow bans before a fetus can live outside the womb.
"You can't restrict access pre-viability," Brown-Williams said.
Derzis said she thinks Mississippi intends a U.S. Supreme Court test case.
"I think the bill is clearly unconstitutional," she said. "I think that's part of the plan, to get as much anti-abortion legislation headed up through the court system, hoping by the time it gets there, there's another anti-choice justice."
The U.S. Senate on Monday rejected legislation designed to ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. The vote was 51-46, shy of the 60-vote threshold to advance the legislation. Elsewhere Tuesday, a South Carolina legislative committee voted to delay a proposal to ban all abortions.