The Mississippi Senate has amended a bill that would ban abortions after 20 weeks’ gestation, moving the cutoff to 18 weeks. HB 1400, which had already passed the state house, will now return to the house for consideration.
The change highlights a confusing point about 20-week bans. Doctors usually date a woman’s pregnancy from the first date of her last menstrual period (LMP) because they can’t be certain of when her egg was fertilized. But many 20-week bans use medically inaccurate terms like “post-fertilization” or “gestational” age—so, for practical purposes, those terms translate to two weeks later than the LMP date. That means most 20-week bans are actually bans on abortion after 22 weeks’ LMP, but Mississippi’s bill will now ban abortions after 20 weeks’ LMP.
Nine states have “20-week” (22-week LMP) abortion bans in effect, which lawmakers justify based on medically discredited notions of “fetal pain.” Another three states have had such laws blocked by courts for going against Roe v. Wade and banning abortion before a fetus can survive outside the womb. One of those three states, Arizona, had a ban that looked much like Mississippi’s now does after being amended. And Arizona’s law was struck down for good after the Supreme Court refused to hear a challenge that could have restored the ban.
But both versions of the 20-week ban are equally unconstitutional, Amanda Allen, state legislative counsel at the Center for Reproductive Rights, told RH Reality Check. And because the state’s only abortion clinic already doesn’t perform the procedure after 16 weeks (later abortions for medical reasons are performed in hospitals), Allen called the bill “cynical and cruel, and doubly so because it will have little impact in the state.”
The bill contains exceptions for severe health threats to the pregnant woman or severe fetal abnormalities, but not for rape or incest, and an amendment to create exceptions for rape or incest was defeated.