Mississippi Governor Signs Fetal-Heartbeat Abortion Law

In this March 14, 2019 photo, a Planned Parenthood supporter sports an abortion rights button on her hat during a rally on the steps of the state capitol in Jackson, Miss. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis, File)

JACKSON, Miss. (CN) – Undeterred by threats of legal challenges, Republican Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant on Thursday made good on his promise to sign into law the nation’s most sweeping abortion restrictions, banning abortions once a fetal heartbeat has been detected – around six weeks of pregnancy.

The Republican-controlled Mississippi Senate on Tuesday voted 34-15 in favor of the fetal-heartbeat bill, SB 2116, mostly along party lines. Bryant vowed to advance the bill despite appeals from abortion advocates to veto it.

“It is law,” Bryant said Thursday at a ceremony at the state capitol immediately after signing the bill.

A spokeswoman for the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights said the organization will sue to block what it is calling “the most restrictive abortion bans signed into law.”

“A judge struck down the state’s 15-week ban just months ago, but lawmakers didn’t get the message,” said Hillary Schneller, a staff attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights. “They are determined to rob Mississippians of the right to abortion, and they are doing it at the expense of women’s health and taxpayer money.”

Bryant has defended the new abortion measures on religious grounds, tweeting on Wednesday: “We will all answer to the good Lord one day. I will say in this instance, ‘I fought for the lives of innocent babies, even under the threat of legal action.’”

The U.S. Supreme Court in 2016 upheld a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion in a Texas case, the most significant abortion-related ruling in over two decades. That produced a nationwide ripple effect that led to federal courts in Arkansas, Arizona and Mississippi striking down similar abortion laws.

But Mississippi is one of several states weighing stricter abortion measures after the Supreme Court retained a conservative majority last year.

Abortion advocates worry that the Mississippi law signed Thursday bans abortion before most women know that they’re pregnant.

The law makes it a crime for doctors to provide an abortion once a heartbeat has been detected. It does offer exclusions if the woman’s life, or one of her major bodily functions, is threatened, but does not allow exceptions in cases of rape or incest.

“This ban – just like the 15 week ban the governor signed a year ago – is cruel and clearly unconstitutional,” Schneller said.

Georgia lawmakers are trying to push through an identical measure in the Peach State.

Iowa’s fetal-heartbeat law was struck down in January by a state judge who said the detection of a heartbeat does not necessarily indicate a viable pregnancy.  

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