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Miss. Gov. To Sign 20-Week Abortion Ban; 'Religious Practices' Bill Also Approved

Miss. Gov. To Sign 20-Week Abortion Ban; 'Religious Practices' Bill Also Approved

April 2, 2014 — Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant (R) on Tuesday said he will sign into law a bill (HB 1400) that would ban most abortions beginning at 18 weeks after a woman's last menstrual period, the Jackson Clarion-Ledger reports (Pender/Chandler, Jackson Clarion-Ledger, 4/1).

Earlier Tuesday, the state House approved the measure 91-20 and the state Senate passed it 41-10 (Wagster Pettus, AP/Biloxi-Gulfport Sun Herald, 4/1). Bryant said he looks forward to "quickly signing it into law" (Jackson ¬Clarion-Ledger, 4/1).

Bill Details

The bill states that physicians convicted of violating the ban could lose their license to practice. The measure includes exceptions for severe fetal anomalies or if a physician determines that a pregnancy endangers a woman's life.

The bill originally calculated pregnancy as beginning when a fertilized egg implants in the uterus, which would have banned abortion after 20 weeks (Women's Health Policy Report, 3/13).

Reaction

House Democratic Leader Bobby Moak questioned whether the measure would expose Mississippi to lawsuits, noting that Arizona recently lost in a lawsuit over a similar law.

Planned Parenthood Southeast Director of Public Policy Felicia Brown-Williams said, "Women who make the deeply personal and often complex decision to end a pregnancy after 18 weeks should do so in consultation with their physician, not politicians" (Jackson Clarion-Ledger, 4/1).

State Sen. Angela Hill (R), who voted for the bill, said, "This is not about a woman's body. This is about the life of an unborn 20-week baby" (AP/Biloxi-Gulfport Sun Herald, 4/1).

Religious Freedom Bill Advances

Meanwhile, the Mississippi House and Senate on Tuesday passed a bill (SB 2681) that would allow state residents to sue over regulations they claim place a substantial burden on their religious freedom, the Washington Post's "GovBeat" reports (Wilson, "GovBeat," Washington Post, 4/1).

According to MSNBC, the bill largely mirrors the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (PL 103-141). Supporters of the state's version said it would protect religious freedom, while opponents argued that it could be used to justify discrimination in the name of religion.

Mississippi lawmakers last month shelved a broader version of the measure after backlash, instead opting for a version that closely mirrors RFRA, except for the addition of a provision that bars employees from filing religious-based claims against private employers.

Eunice Rho of the American Civil Liberties Union said that while the bill is "an improvement upon the language that the legislature previously contemplated, it still falls short." She added that the measure's language "still exposes virtually every branch, office and agency of the government to litigation, which will require taxpayer funds to defend" (Serwer, MSNBC, 4/2).