Update: The governor of Mississippi has signed the bill into law, making this the most restrictive abortion law in the nation. The law is an example of the "Republicans’ ceaseless, nefarious efforts to curtail women’s rights and push their partisan-fueled agendas," Democratic National Committee women's media director Elizabeth Renda told Refinery29. "While Republicans play partisan games with women’s health decisions, Democrats will continue to lead and fight for women across the country."
This story was originally published on March 6, 2018.
Mississippi could soon ban women from having an abortion after 15 weeks, becoming the state with the earliest abortion ban in the United States.
On Tuesday, the Mississippi Senate voted to pass a 15-week abortion ban, with exceptions only to cases where the mother's health is in danger. The legislation doesn't include an exception for cases of rape or incest. Gov. Phil Bryant is expected to sign the bill into law. Bryant — who has said he wants "Mississippi to be the safest place in America for an unborn child" — didn't respond to Refinery29's request for comment by press time.
As of now, Mississippi bans abortions at 18 weeks post-fertilization, but that will change if House Bill 1510 becomes law. The state's 15-week abortion ban is the first legislation of its kind to be introduced in the U.S. Though ongoing, typically efforts to ban abortions at six or 12 weeks have either been struck down by courts or vetoed. Elizabeth Nash, senior state issues manager at the Guttmacher Institute, believes the 15-week abortion ban represents the start of a new wave of abortion restrictions.
"We're seeing this big push to limit abortion later in pregnancy, but also imposing a gestational time limit that becomes shorter and shorter over time," she said. "We've seen bills that are blatantly unconstitutional. So, the next move by abortion opponents is to come up with a ban that is later in pregnancy than six weeks, but earlier than 20 weeks."
She continued, "This is something to watch very carefully, and to see how the courts react. It's different than a six-week abortion ban, but they all have the same goal in mind."
And the goal is to completely eradicate abortion, even if anti-choice lawmakers are unable to reverse Roe v. Wade. It's not surprising we are here, however. The 15-week abortion ban is part of a long-term effort to restrict access to abortion care, spreading all the way from the White House to state lawmakers. (In recent days, Vice President Mike Pence said that he believed legal abortion would end "in our time" and the Trump administration supported a nationwide 20-week abortion ban.)
Only about 7% of all abortions in the United States take place between 14 and 20 weeks, according to a 2009 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Though most abortions take place in the first trimester, there are many reasons why people might seek care after that — including financial difficulties, being unaware that you're pregnant, or facing an illness.
But also the anti-choice legislation enacted by state lawmakers — including restrictions such as waiting periods, limited access to medical abortion, and targeted regulation of abortion providers (TRAP) laws — can lead more women to seek care at a later stage in the pregnancy.
For example, a year after Texas enacted the contentious House Bill 2, which was later struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court, the state saw a 27% increase in the number of second-trimester abortions. One of the main reasons of the uptick was the closure of almost half of the 44 clinics in Texas because of the HB2's sweeping regulations.
Mississippi is already one of the states with the strictest abortion laws. It requires women to receive state-directed counseling, undergo a 24-hour waiting period, and have an ultrasound. Health insurance plans are also banned from covering the procedure except in cases of life endangerment, rape, or incest. Mississippi also has only one abortion provider to serve patients in the entire state, the Jackson Women's Health Center, which has constantly been under attack by anti-choice lawmakers.
"There's already numerous abortion restrictions in place, as well as logistical issues around being able to get into the one clinic in Mississippi, as well as the limitations placed on that clinic on to what point can they provide abortion services," Nash said. "We've already seen access extremely curtailed in Mississippi. This ban would have an additional impact should it go into effect."
Organizations such as NARAL Pro-Choice America condemned the legislation, pointing out that if it becomes law, it will be extremely harmful to women and families in Mississippi.
“There is no question that H.B. 1510 is a strategic move by the anti-choice movement to make Mississippi the first state where legal abortion is no longer accessible," communications director Kaylie Hanson Long said in a statement provided to Refinery29. "We know what happens when abortion is illegal or inaccessible: women are forced to travel out of state to get essential care, women who can’t afford to take time off of work or travel outside the state are left with nowhere to turn, and we know that when abortion is banned, the number of abortions doesn't go down, the number of deaths and injuries to women go up."
She added, "Women and families in Mississippi know that their ability to get ahead and have economic stability depends on their ability to plan their own families and control their own futures. NARAL members will not stand by as our basic freedoms are attacked, and we urge Governor Bryant to reject this bill."
Abortion rates have declined in recent years, but the procedure is still common. Research has shown that about one in four women will have an abortion by the age of 45. Some of the reasons why rates have gone down include factors such as better access to birth control and comprehensive sex ed. But many that follow an anti-choice agenda, like the Trump administration and many lawmakers across the U.S., have been chipping away at access to those too.
For Dr. Daniel Grossman, a professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences at the University of California at San Francisco and director of Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health, if lawmakers want to curb abortion at a later stage, they should make it easier for women to access care in the early stages of the pregnancy.
"If the legislators who are pushing for [a 20-week abortion ban] were serious about trying to reduce later abortion, they would do more work to improve access to early abortion," he told Refinery29 in January. "Once a woman has made up her mind about her decision to have an abortion, she should have access to that care as quickly as possible."
In 1992, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a woman's right to choose an abortion before viability. (A fetus is typically not considered viable before the 20-week mark.) Since the ruling, bans before 20 weeks have been largely interpreted by the courts as unconstitutional. For example, in 2015 the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down a 12-week abortion ban in Arkansas.
Therefore, Mississippi's 15-week abortion ban is likely to face a legal challenge if it's signed into law. "This is a really unusual bill," Nash said. "We never seen anything like it before and it could really be a new trend."
She continued, "But we shouldn't be making political determinations about abortion. We should be letting medical care happen when it needs to happen."
This story was originally published at 3:36 p.m. It has since been updated to include a statement from NARAL Pro-Choice America.
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