BOBBY HARRISON: Bipartisanship drove passage of new anti-abortion law

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal

Granted, the Mississippi Legislature has more than its share of partisanship and all of the good and bad that comes with it.
But every now and then – at least in Mississippi – there are examples of bipartisanship.
You can argue that bipartisanship showed in passage of legislation last week that prohibits abortion coverage from being offered in the insurance exchange that will be set up in Mississippi as a result of the new far-reaching federal health care law.
Granted, the legislation caused quite a bit of consternation in the state House and resulted in the House being in session two days longer than it otherwise would have been.
Granted, some pointed out that those pushing the legislation are candidates for higher office and might have had political motives for passing the bill.
The primary author of the legislation – Sen. Alan Nunnelee, R-Tupelo – is running for Congress in the 1st District and will be on the party primary ballot in less than a month.
The co-author of the legislation – Senate President Pro Tem Billy Hewes, R-Gulfport – is expected to run for lieutenant governor in 2011.
And current Republican Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant, who was sending out press releases espousing the virtues of the legislation, is expected to run for governor in 2011.
And granted, there was no urgency for the legislation. Instead of taking the proposal up at the end of the 2010 session, when the Legislature was supposed to be in session to adopt a state budget, it could have been done in 2011 or 2012 during the normal course of legislative businesses.
The results would have been the same. The health insurance exchanges do not kick in until 2014.
But truth be known, Nunnelee probably would have pursued the legislation anyway. He has been an avowed abortion foe during his tenure in the state Senate.
And, as stated earlier, the legislation had bipartisan support in the Mississippi Legislature. A whole lot of Democrats in the House and Senate voted for the proposal. And the proposal they were voting on was part of the federal health care bill. The federal bill passed by Democrats in Washington, signed into law with much fanfare by President Barack Obama and called a big deal by Vice President Joe Biden, gives the states the right to do just what Mississippi did.
And believe it or not, it appears there was actually bipartisanship in the Mississippi Legislature in drafting the legislation.
The language in the proposal as first introduced by Nunnelee was much more aggressive. What the legislation actually did was the same, but the tone was different.
The original bill included language that could be construed as political statements on behalf of the anti-abortion movement. Apparently some senators – presumably Democrats – told Nunnelee they did not oppose what he was trying to do in prohibiting the health insurance exchanges from covering abortions, but had a problem with the tone of the language in the bill.
Nunnelee apparently accommodated those concerns. The bill that passed his Appropriations Committee and ultimately passed the Senate and House did not include that language.
That legislation, as passed by the House and the Senate, was more of a nuts and bolts bills and made no statements for better or worse about abortion or the new federal health care law.
It still did just what Nunnelee intended, but without the declaratory statements that made some people uneasy.
In the end, Nunnelee was able to get what he wanted while still working with his colleagues from the other party. As a result the proposal passed the Senate with almost no dissent. By the time the proposal had reached the House, for better or worse, some partisanship had resurfaced, though many Democrats in the House still voted for the proposal.
On a different but related subject, will that legislation that was passed by Mississippi, and a soon-to-be growing group of other states, stand up in the courts?
Many Republicans, including Gov. Haley Barbour, are suing because the federal law mandates people purchase health care coverage. They argue that people cannot be forced to buy a private product. That private product – health insurance – will be sold through the exchange.
The theory is that private insurance offered through the exchanges will be cheaper because more people – as mandated by law – will be shopping there. It will kind of be like a Sam’s Club of insurance.
But can a legislature – federal or state – enact a law to prevent a private company from offering a product – abortion coverage – that has been deemed to be a constitutionality protected right?
That is an interesting question, and one to which I do not know the answer.
As stated earlier, potions of the new federal law already are being opposed in court by many on the right, such as Barbour. Could a portion of the law also be challenged by those on the left?
Bobby Harrison is Capitol Bureau chief in Jackson for the Daily Journal. Contact him at or (601) 353-3119.

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