On Tuesday, the Mississippi legislature approved a ban on abortion at 20 weeks after a woman’s last menstrual period, with no exceptions for rape or incest, despite the fact that the state’s only abortion clinic only performs abortions up to 16 weeks.
The ban does allow exceptions in the case of severe fetal anomaly, or if a pregnancy poses a serious threat to a woman’s health or life. While legislators repeatedly refused amendments that would make exceptions for rape or incest, one significant amendment did go through last month. That amendment effectively moved the cutoff date two weeks earlier in a pregnancy, from 20 weeks “after conception” to 20 weeks after a woman’s last menstrual period. That effectively makes the bill an 18-week ban.
The only other “20-week” abortion ban passed with such an early cutoff was in Arizona, and that law has been permanently blocked by courts for unconstitutionally banning abortion before a fetus is viable outside the womb. However, the appeals court that would decide any constitutional challenges to this ban is the same one that has upheld severe restrictions on abortion providers in Texas.
Twenty-week bans are justified by anti-choice legislators using scientifically discredited ideas that fetuses can feel pain that early in a pregnancy, but
the aim of such bans appears to be forcing a challenge to Roe v. Wade in the Supreme Court, since the bans contradict that ruling. National Right to Life, which has drafted model legislation on which many of these bans are based, has a quote from Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback making that goal clear at the top of its “State Legislative Center” webpage: “And a court case can get up to the Supreme Court and Roe v. Wade be overturned. Which will ultimately happen. We have to keep pushing at these state levels.”
Similar 20-week bans are actively enforced in nine other states. South Carolina is actively pursuing passing one this year. West Virginia’s Democratically controlled legislature nearly passed one, but the normally anti-choice Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin vetoed it last week because his lawyers advised him
the ban was unconstitutional, and because he said it interfered with the doctor-patient relationship.