Mississippi’s leadership just made it even harder for women to control their reproductive health. On Thursday (March 21), Mississippi Republican Governor Phil Bryant signed a law that bans abortion at the point that doctors can detect a fetal heartbeat with an ultrasound, which can happen as early as six weeks of pregnancy. Per The New York Times:
In a signing ceremony in Jackson on Thursday, Mr. Bryant described a heartbeat as “the universal hallmark of life since man’s very beginning.”
“We’re going to try to protect that child whenever we can,” said Mr. Bryant, who is barred by term limits from seeking another term as governor. “We think that this is showing the profound respect and desire of Mississippians to protect the sanctity of that very unborn life whenever possible.”
The law is called a “heartbeat ban” by reproductive rights activists who also say it is essentially a way to strip a woman of the option of having an abortion. This is because six weeks of pregnancy occurs just two weeks after a missed menstrual period, when many people do not know they are pregnant.
“This ban is one of the most restrictive abortion bans signed into law, and we will take Mississippi to court to make sure it never takes effect,” Hillary Schneller, of the Center for Reproductive Rights, told The Times. Unless prevented by legal action, the law will go into effect on July 1.
The Times reports that Florida, Missouri, Ohio, Tennessee and Texas are expected to approve fetal heartbeat measures in 2019, adding:
Efforts in several states this year, including Oklahoma, seek to add abortion to felony homicide laws, potentially sending doctors to prison.
And a relatively new strategy in limiting abortions would ban the procedure if the reason for it was Down syndrome. Utah, Arkansas, Missouri and Kentucky are considering such bills this year, which also prohibit abortions based on gender, race or color. Kentucky’s law, signed Tuesday by Governor Matt Bevin, was temporarily blocked by a federal court judge the next day.
There is an upsurge in heartbeat bans and other restrictive measures in Republican-controlled state legislatures, as they seek to land a new case before the current Supreme Court in hopes of setting sharper limits or even an outright ban. The 2018 confirmation of Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh—and the potential shifting of the court’s direction—has provoked new urgency among critics of abortion.
Mississippi has long been one of the country’s most restrictive states when it comes to abortion. It has just a single abortion clinic, the Jackson Women’s Health Organization, located in Mississippi’s predominantly Black capital. Governor Bryant has called the abortion rate of African-Americans “genocide.”
In November, a federal judge blocked a Mississippi state law, the Gestational Age Act, that would have banned abortions after 15 weeks. It made no exceptions for cases of rape or incest, only for, the law reads, “a medical emergency, or in the case of a severe fetal abnormality.” It also called the procedure “a barbaric practice, dangerous for the maternal patient and demeaning to the medical profession.”
Mississippi has the largest percentage of Black residents of all 50 states, at 37.7 percent. And according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, one out of three Black Mississippi residents lives below the poverty line.
As Colorlines has reported, abortion restrictions place disproportionate hardships on women with low incomes, young women and women of color, who are more likely to seek this care later in their pregnancies due to barriers such as long waiting periods, lack of Medicaid funding and the need to travel long distances to access medical providers.
Leana Wen, president of Planned Parenthood, released a statement in response to the bill signing: “Mississippi’s six-week abortion ban is a dangerous policy that criminalizes a safe, standard medical procedure and will endanger women’s lives…. We cannot accept a world where the right to abortion care depends on where you live or how much money you make. Planned Parenthood will fight to ensure our patients have access to safe, legal abortion in Mississippi and across the country.”