Anti-abortion bills draw protest in Mississippi

By Emily Wagster Pettus/The Associated Press

JACKSON — Protesters outside the Mississippi Capitol said Thursday that more abortion regulations would mean more government intrusion into what should be the private medical decisions of women and their doctors.

About four dozen people — mostly women, but some men — surrounded a Confederate women’s statute and carried signs with slogans such as “Politicians are not doctors” and “Women have dominion of their bodies.”

They targeted House Bill 1390, which would require anyone performing an abortion to be a certified OB-GYN and have admitting privileges to a local hospital. Critics say the bill could shut down the only remaining abortion clinic in Mississippi.

The group also protested against House Bill 1196, which would prohibit abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detectable, unless the woman’s health is at risk. Doctors say a fetal heartbeat is detectable at five to six weeks of pregnancy, but the director of the abortion clinic in Jackson said her office doesn’t perform abortions before four weeks.

Some lawmakers acknowledge that detecting a fetal heartbeat in the early weeks of pregnancy would require the use of a transvaginal ultrasound. One protester carried a sign that said: “I don’t want your camera in my vagina.”

Several male legislators walked past the protest without stopping. Some averted their eyes as they went by.

A half-dozen female legislators and one male senator attended the protest to show their support.

“When they did that abortion bill on the floor the other day, I asked that only people who could have an abortion would vote on it,” said Rep. Alyce Clarke, D-Jackson.

People supporting new regulations on abortion say they’re trying to protect women and children.

“The heartbeat is the only voice the unborn child has,” Terri Herring of Madison, national director of Pro Life America Network, said after she watched the protest.

However, Lori Roberts, an officer with the Jackson chapter of National Organization for Women, said the “heartbeat bill” could endanger women’s lives.

Roberts said when she was 18 and living in Indiana, she suffered a partial miscarriage when she was 12 weeks’ pregnant. She said she went to a local Catholic hospital, and doctors wouldn’t remove the embryo because they detected a faint heartbeat. She said they sent her home, then she returned to the hospital two hours later when she began hemorrhaging.

She said her body had expelled the embryo by then, and she believes that saved her life.

“They may have just let me die while they waited for the heartbeat to stop,” Roberts said.

The bill says that even if a fetal heartbeat is detected, the pregnant woman could still have an abortion if she’s having a medical emergency.

Herring watched the protest from the Capitol steps, videotaping the gathering with her cellphone. Responding to protesters’ concerns about a transvaginal ultrasound being an invasive procedure, Herring said in an interview: “I’ve had a vaginal ultrasound. It’s no big deal.”

Next Tuesday is the deadline for Senate committees to consider general bills that have already passed the House, and for House committees to consider general bills that have already passed the Senate.

House Bill 1196 awaits consideration in two Senate committees, Judiciary B and Public Health. Some House members say they’re skeptical that it will survive Judiciary B. Chairman Hob Bryan, D-Amory, said he will treat it as he does any bill that’s assigned to his committee.

House Bill 1390 is assigned to the Senate Public Health Committee.