Miss. House Adds 'Heartbeat' Amendment to Homicide Bill

April 12, 2012 — The Mississippi House on Tuesday voted 76-39 to revive legislation that would ban abortion if a fetal heartbeat is detectable, the AP/10TV reports. The original bill (HB 1196) passed the House but was rejected by a Senate committee last week (Wagster Pettus, AP/10TV, 4/10).

The fetal heartbeat language was added as an amendment to SB 2771, which would increase to 30 years the maximum prison sentence for anyone older than age 21 convicted of murdering someone younger than age 18. The bill went on to pass in an 82-34 vote.

Under the amendment, physicians would have to attempt to detect a fetal heartbeat -- in some cases, by transvaginal ultrasound -- before an abortion. A physician convicted of providing abortion care when a fetal heartbeat is present would be subject to the 30-year maximum prison sentence in the bill.

The bill states that abortion would be permissible if "there is no detectable heartbeat" and in cases of rape, incest and when a woman's life is in danger. The amended version also clarifies that the word "child" in the bill is meant to have the same definition of "human being" used in Mississippi law with regard to homicide or assault, which includes an "unborn child at every stage of gestation from conception until live birth."

Lawmakers who opposed the measure cited situations where the bill's language would restrict doctors' medical decisions and potentially harm women's health, such as if continuing a nonviable pregnancy would threaten a woman's fertility (Bakeman, Jackson Clarion Ledger, 4/11).

Prospects for Advancement

The bill is being held in the House for more potential debate; however, it is unlikely opponents will sway enough votes to defeat it (AP/10TV, 4/10).

If the bill clears the House, it will return to the Senate for review. Senate Judiciary B Committee Chair Hob Bryan (D) -- who previously expressed concern that the original heartbeat bill would prompt a court challenge -- would determine whether the Senate would take up the latest version (Jackson Clarion Ledger, 4/11).