Mississippi Has Passed a 15-Week Abortion Ban, the Country’s Most Severe Restriction

Protesters holding anti-abortion signs listen to a prayer on the National Mall.
Anti-abortion protesters attend the 2018 March for Life in Washington. Eva Hambach/AFP/Getty Images

Mississippi is poised to enact the country’s most severe abortion restriction, a ban on abortions performed 15 weeks or more after the first day of a woman’s last menstrual period, or 13 weeks post-fertilization. On Thursday, the Mississippi House approved the bill 75–34, two days after the Senate passed it 35–14. The bill now heads to the desk of Republican Gov. Phil Bryant, who has said he is excited to sign it.

“I want Mississippi to be the safest place in America for an unborn child,” he tweeted on Tuesday. “House Bill 1510 will help us achieve that goal.”

In a previous iteration, the bill included provisions for criminal penalties, including jail time, for physicians who performed abortions after 15 weeks’ gestation. The Mississippi Senate cut out that language. The current bill, once Bryant signs it, will threaten doctors with the loss of their medical licenses and civil fines up to $500. It makes exceptions for critical fetal abnormalities and cases in which a woman’s life is in danger or where there’s “a serious risk of substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function.” There are no exemptions for pregnancies arising from rape or incest, or for the health of the pregnant woman.

Mississippi law currently bans abortions performed after 20 weeks of pregnancy, but the state’s one abortion provider, Jackson Women’s Health Organization, only offers abortions up to 16 weeks, according to the Clarion-Ledger. Still, the clinic’s owner, Diane Derzis, told the paper that the law will mean the clinic will have to send patients out of state for the care they need. The clinic is already planning to take the state to court over the law.

If it does, the state’s prospects don’t look promising. Mississippi’s attorney general, Democrat Jim Hood, told the Associated Press that he expects “an immediate and expensive legal challenge” to the law, especially given that federal courts have struck down much less restrictive gestation-based abortion bans. Those include 20-week abortion bans in Arizona and Idaho in 2013 and 2015, respectively. The Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey rulings affirmed the rights of women to choose and access abortions before the point at which a fetus can survive on its own outside the womb, usually around 24 weeks of pregnancy, making a 15-week abortion ban blatantly unconstitutional.

The bill itself is a piece of propaganda that calls abortion “a barbaric practice, dangerous for the maternal patient, and demeaning to the medical profession,” effectively shaming Mississippi women for accessing a routine, constitutionally protected, extremely common medical procedure. The bill also contains an important bit of misinformation: It claims that “the maternal health risks of undergoing an abortion are greater than the risks of carrying a pregnancy to term” in the second trimester of pregnancy. In reality, at every stage of pregnancy, an abortion is safer than continuing the pregnancy and giving birth, a fact that’s amplified by Mississippi’s sky-high maternal mortality rate, which ranks 40th in the nation. The state also ranks dead last when it comes to its unintended pregnancy rate, a seemingly obvious target for improvement for legislators concerned with abortion. The money Mississippi will spend defending this sure-to-be axed law could fund a whole lot of subsidized contraception.