Mississippi could test how soon state can restrict abortion

Thu, Mar 8, 2018 (11:11 a.m.)

JACKSON, Miss. — Mississippi lawmakers on Thursday passed what is likely to be the nation's most restrictive abortion law.

The House voted 75-34 in favor of the measure, which would make most abortions illegal after 15 weeks of pregnancy. Republican Gov. Phil Bryant has said he'll sign the bill. The Mississippi Senate passed the measure on Tuesday.

The bill could spark a court challenge focusing on whether states can ban abortions before fetuses can survive outside the womb. The owner of Mississippi's only abortion clinic, Jackson Women's Health Organization, has pledged to sue.

There are two exceptions to House Bill 1510: if the fetus has a health problem that would prevent it from surviving outside the womb at full term, or if the pregnant woman's life or a "major bodily function" is threatened by the pregnancy. Pregnancies as a result of rape and incest would not be exempt.

The bill "would violate four decades of unwavering Supreme Court precedent holding that a state may not ban abortion prior to viability," the Center for Reproductive Rights wrote in a letter asking legislative leaders to block it. The center, which supports legal abortion, calls Mississippi's move unconstitutional and "medically unsound."

Mississippi already had tied with North Carolina for the nation's shortest abortion term, limiting abortions to 20 weeks since a woman's last menstruation. That limit has not yet been challenged in the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals — possibly because the Mississippi clinic doesn't offer abortions after 20 weeks.

Clinic owner Diane Derzis has said that her clinic does perform abortions until about 18 weeks. She said she believes the state is trying to set up a test case that will go to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The U.S. Senate failed to pass a 20-week abortion ban bill in January. With 60 'yes' votes required to advance, the bill failed on a 51-46 vote.

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