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04.23.14 - (PRESS RELEASE) Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant signed into law today a measure banning abortion in the state after 20 weeks of pregnancy—with zero exceptions for survivors of rape or incest and only an extremely narrow exception for medical emergencies and lethal fetal abnormalities.
The very few Mississippi women who may need to seek abortion services after 20 weeks already face extreme barriers to care, as the sole remaining abortion clinic in the state only provides abortion services through 16 weeks of pregnancy. According to the state Department of Health’s most recent data from 2012, only two abortions were performed after 20 weeks—most likely in a hospital—in the state that year.
Said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights:
“Two years ago, politicians in Mississippi tried to use an underhanded law to close the only abortion clinic in the state, which is now hanging on by a federal court order.
“Now, these very same politicians have set their sights on shutting down exceptionally rare instances of abortion care after 20 weeks, of which there were only two in 2012.
“With the women and families of their state facing extreme poverty, unacceptable rates of maternal mortality, and skyrocketing teen pregnancy, Mississippi’s elected officials have more than enough real work to do to bolster women’s well-being in their state.
“It’s time for these politicians to stop passing laws that attack constitutionally protected women’s health care and finally focus on policies that would support the health, lives, and rights of Mississippi women and families.”
Mississippi has one of the worst records in the nation when it comes to women’s health, with the largest number of women living in poverty and some of the highest rates of teen pregnancy and maternal mortality in the country. Mississippi women also face some of the most burdensome restrictions on access to safe and legal abortion in the U.S., with the Jackson Women's Health Organization—the sole abortion clinic in Mississippi—fighting to keep their doors open in the face of political attempts to make safe, high quality, and legal abortion completely inaccessible in the state.
The U.S. Supreme Court has consistently held—first in Roe v. Wade and again in Planned Parenthood v. Casey—that states cannot ban abortion prior to viability. Earlier this year, the US Supreme Court refused to review a decision permanently blocking Arizona’s ban on abortion at 20 weeks of pregnancy, and courts in Idaho and Georgia have also recently blocked similar pre-viability bans. Just last month, West Virginia Governor Earl Ray Tomblin vetoed a similar measure, stating that the bill was unconstitutional and “unduly restricts the physician-patient relationship.”
Harmful and unconstitutional bans like these further underscore the need for the federal Women’s Health Protection Act (S. 1696/H.R. 3471)—a bill that would prohibit states like Mississippi from imposing unconstitutional restrictions on reproductive health care providers that apply to no similar medical care, interfere with women’s personal decision making, and block access to safe and legal abortion services.