Mississippi lawmakers consider new abortion restrictions

By Emily Wagster Pettus/The Associated Press

JACKSON — Mississippi’s Republican governor and House speaker told abortion opponents Thursday that they’ll support several proposals this year to put new restrictions on the procedure.

“We want Mississippi to be abortion-free,” Gov. Phil Bryant said during a Capitol news conference hosted by the Pro Life America Network.

One of the proposals, House Bill 1107, would require a physician to do a sonogram before performing an abortion. The pregnant woman wouldn’t be required to view the sonogram, but the bill says she’d have the option. It also says she’d have the option of hearing a fetal heartbeat.

“We want to protect all the babies, all the time,” said Terri Herring of Madison, national director of PLAN.

Legislators are also proposing constitutional amendments similar to a ballot initiative defeated by 58 percent of voters last November.

The defeated “personhood” amendment would’ve declared life begins at fertilization, but critics said it could limit in-vitro fertilization or ban some birth control.

House Concurrent Resolution 61 would define life as beginning at conception. The resolution, supported by Herring, says it shall not be interpreted to ban in-vitro fertilization or contraceptives “that do not kill a person.”

Republicans won control of the 122-member House in last November’s general election, and Philip Gunn of Clinton became House speaker in January.

“I believe in the sanctity of human life,” Gunn said Wednesday as about 100 people watched in the Capitol’s marble rotunda. “I believe that God is the author and sustainer of all life, and He is the one who brings life into existence and that we are charged to protect those unborn, protect those that cannot protect themselves.”

Bryant supported the life-at-fertilization amendment last fall, saying days before the election that “Satan wins” if the amendment fails. During part of the news conference Wednesday, Bryant held hands with his wife, Deborah. When the governor spoke, he used the cadence of a minister as he said he expects people to complain about abortion restrictions that he’ll support.

“Oh, there will be those who will rail against it,” Bryant said. “Let them rail. Let them complain. Let them position. Let them do what they would. Because someday, I will stand before my maker and He will ask me what did I do for the children. These lives that I protect, that’s the power that I will answer.”

Republican Rep. Andy Gipson of Braxton is chairman of the Judiciary B Committee. He’s sponsor of the bill requiring a sonogram before an abortion and chief sponsor of the life-at-conception amendment.

“In the course of the last week, I have gotten personal emails and attacks against me. I’ve gotten phone calls on my telephone at home telling me, ‘You ought to be ashamed of yourself,'” Gipson said. “You know what? I want the world to know I am not afraid to stand for life.”

Atlee Breland of Brandon is with a group called Parents Against Personhood, which campaigned against the amendment last fall. Breland said her three children were born because of in-vitro fertilization. She stood quietly in the Capitol rotunda during the PLAN news conference. Afterward, she said doesn’t have a position on bills that would restrict abortions, but she believes the life-at-conception amendment is flawed.

“I think it’s a real shame that they continue to insist that they can find language that will solve the problems when we all know that is not true. We all know that recognizing an embryo’s right to life will inevitably have effects on the way that physicians treat their patients. It will require physicians and doctors to perform some specific procedures in handling IVF embryos,” Breland said. “That could potentially amount to regulations which could effectively prohibit IVF.”

Herring said she’s seeking other abortion restrictions this year, including more regulation of RU-486, a prescription drug that causes abortion.

For decades, Mississippi has required any minor seeking an abortion to get consent of her parents or of a judge. Herring said she believes enforcement of that requirement has been lax, and she wants the state to require the permission forms to be notarized.

Mississippi already has some of the most restrictive abortion laws in the nation, including a 24-hour waiting period for any woman seeking the procedure. The only abortion clinic remaining in the state is in Jackson.