JACKSON – Mississippi House and Senate members must work out differences on a bill to ban abortion after 20 weeks’ gestation.
The Senate passed House Bill 1400 unanimously on Tuesday, changing the bill to require more work.
Twenty weeks is halfway through a full-term pregnancy of 40 weeks. Exceptions to the 20-week ban would be made to prevent permanent physical damage or death of a pregnant woman, or in cases of several fetal abnormalities.
However, senators, on a split voice vote, rejected an amendment by Sen. Derrick Simmons, D-Greenville, to create an exemption for pregnancies that occur through rape or incest.
Simmons argued that some women might not realize they were pregnant until after 20 weeks.
“We don’t want to further victimize” the mother, Simmons said.
Opponents disputed that claim. “Don’t you think that person would realize they’ve been raped in 20 weeks?” asked Sen. Gary Jackson, R-French Camp.
Other opponents said they believed terminating pregnancies that occurred through rape or incest, like all abortions, is wrong.
“The baby is a victim of the crime. He didn’t have anything to do with it,” said Sen. Philip Gandy, R-Waynesboro. “To witness a late-term abortion is one of the most brutal forms of murder allowed in America.”
Health Department statistics show 2,176 abortions in Mississippi in 2012. Two were reported at 21 weeks or later, and 382 were listed as unknown gestational age.
“I think any time it happens is one too many,” said Sen Joey Fillingane, R-Sumrall, who argued abortions after 20 weeks should be outlawed because fetuses can feel pain at that point.
Felicia Brown-Williams, director of public policy for Planned Parenthood Southeast, said no woman who has been raped should be forced to remain pregnant.
“Mississippi women and families don’t need more over-regulation, more restrictions, and more potential lawsuits around abortion simply because politicians are hoping to score political points at the expense of the women of our state,” Brown-Williams said in a statement.
Diane Derzis, who owns Mississippi’s only abortion clinic, told The Associated Press last month that the proposed change wouldn’t affect the facility, the Jackson Women’s Health Organization. She said the facility stops doing abortions after 16 weeks, and before an abortion is done, a sonogram is performed and the patient is told the gestational age of the fetus. Derzis said she’d expect someone to file a legal challenge if a 20-week ban becomes law.
Several states have a 20-week ban, including Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas.
In January, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected Arizona’s attempt to revive a 20-week ban that was blocked by a federal appeals court. The appeals court ruled that the Arizona law violates a woman’s constitutionally protected right to terminate a pregnancy before a fetus is able to survive outside the womb. Viability of a fetus is generally considered to start at 24 weeks.