Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant signed one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country on Monday. House Bill 1510, the Gestational Age Act, bans abortion after 15 weeks of gestation and makes no exceptions for rape or incest; it does, however, allow for exceptions of the mother’s life is in danger or if the fetus has medical problems that would make it “incompatible with life.”
The bill passed the Mississippi legislature in early March, even garnering some bipartisan support. Prior to HB 1510's passage, Bryant had indicated he would sign the bill. “As I have repeatedly said, I want Mississippi to be the safest place in America for an unborn child. House Bill 1510 will help us achieve that goal,” he said in a tweet. In a Friday interview with the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins, Bryant reiterated his commitment, saying that Mississippi is “leading the nation in protecting the unborn. He added, “this 15-week ban will be the most protective language for the unborn,” before suggesting that anti-abortion policies contribute to the fiscal growth of a state.
Though Bryant emphasized his commitment to making Mississippi safe for fetuses, he did not address the fact that the state has the highest rate of infant mortality in the United States. The state also has the second highest rate of child mortality.
Jackson Women’s Health, Mississippi’s only abortion clinic, said they would sue, and made good on that promise soon after Bryant signed the bill.
“Phil Bryant has never seen an abortion bill he didn’t like,” clinic owner Diane Derzis told the Clarion-Ledger in early March. The bright pink clinic is already familiar with fighting the state in court; in 2012, the state passed a law requiring physicians to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. All of the clinic’s doctors applied but were denied admitting privileges. The law was blocked by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in 2014. The Supreme Court later declined to hear Mississippi’s appeal, effectively ending the case.
It’s likely that lawsuits over HB 1510 will be of particular interest to women’s health advocates since the state law could remap Roe’s mandate of fetal viability. Mississippi Today reported that fetal viability was central to the Mississippi Senate’s debate over the bill. No fetus has survived prior to 20 weeks of gestation, and the American Academy of Pediatrics considers 22-24 weeks of gestation to be “borderline viability.”(Currently, a Texas baby born at 21-weeks in 2014 is considered to be the “premature known survivor to date.”)
But Mississippi legislators argued that medical advances might one day make 15 weeks viable. Mississippi Today notes that the argument is “a crucial point...because under the landmark abortion case Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that women should be able to obtain an abortion at least until the point of fetal viability.”
For his part, Bryant appears committed to fighting for HB 1510 all the way to the Supreme Court. Though Mississippi’s Attorney General warned the governor that litigation would be long and expensive, in an interview, Bryant rhetorically asked, “What price can you put on the life of a child?” It’s a question that’s been asked and answered in Mississippi before.
The law goes into effect immediately.
Update: U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves granted the temporary stay requested by Jackson Women’s Health. PBS reports: “Dr. Sacheen Carr-Ellis of the Jackson Women’s Health Organization said in court papers filed Monday that a woman 15 weeks or more pregnant was scheduled for a Tuesday afternoon abortion.”