JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant told several dozen pastors and other abortion opponents Thursday that he supports a bill that would ban the procedure once a fetal heartbeat can be detected. It's similar to a bill that was filed and killed by a Senate chairman last year.
"It would tell that mother, 'Your child has a heartbeat,'" Republican Bryant said at a Pro-Life Mississippi luncheon at Wesley Biblical Seminary in Jackson.
Many in the audience nodded and some quietly said, "Praise Jesus," as Bryant recalled how he and his wife, Deborah, were married seven years before they conceived their first child, a daughter who's now grown and married. He said they prayed to become parents.
"You can hear that heartbeat at five or six weeks now," Bryant said. "Your child has such a dramatic opportunity to live, with a heartbeat."
A full-term pregnancy is 40 weeks.
Mississippi has long had some of the strictest abortion laws in the nation, including parental consent for a minor seeking an elective abortion and a 24-hour wait for any woman seeking the procedure. The state has only one abortion clinic, Jackson Women's Health Organization.
In 2012 the Legislature passed, and Bryant signed, a bill that would require anyone performing abortions at the clinic to be an OB-GYN with admitting privileges to a local hospital. The clinic filed a federal lawsuit challenging it. U.S. District Judge Daniel P. Jordan III allowed the law to take effect in July, but issued a temporary injunction blocking any civil or criminal penalties while the clinic tried to comply. The state Health Department said the clinic had several months to do so, and the compliance deadline is Friday.
Robert McDuff, an attorney who represents the clinic in the federal lawsuit, said the state will not shut down the clinic Friday even if it doesn't meet the deadline because there are other appeals and procedures allowed under Health Department rules.
Health Department spokeswoman Liz Sharlot said Thursday that if the clinic doesn't meet the deadline, the department would schedule an inspection later.
Friday is also the deadline for state officials to file papers in federal court, responding to the clinic's request for Jordan to extend his injunction on penalties.
The clinic made the request in November, saying it had been unable to get the admitting privileges, which it calls "arbitrary and medically unnecessary." Some hospitals won't issue them to out-of-state physicians, while hospitals that are affiliated with religious groups might not want to associate with anyone who does elective abortions.
One of the clinic's four physicians has admitting privileges, but the clinic said he does little work at the clinic and he had the privileges before the new law took effect. The other three don't have privileges.
House Bill 6, filed this year by Republican Andy Gipson of Braxton, would prohibit abortion if there's a fetal heartbeat, except in cases of medical emergencies. It says a person who intends to perform an abortion on a woman would use "standard medical practice" to determine if the heartbeat exists.
The bill awaits consideration in House Judiciary B Committee, where Gipson is chairman.
Gipson filed a similar bill in 2012, and it died when the Senate Judiciary B Committee chairman, Democrat Hob Bryan of Amory, didn't bring it up for a vote. Bryan said it was unconstitutional because state lawmakers are limited in what they can do to restrict abortions in the first trimester of pregnancy under Roe v. Wade, the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that established a nationwide right to abortion.
After Bryan killed Gipson's first "heartbeat" bill in 2012, Gipson persuaded the House to add the provisions to a separate bill dealing with homicides of children. If that bill had become law, it could have led to a homicide criminal prosecution for anyone performing an abortion once a fetal heartbeat is found. Bryan also killed that bill, citing the same reasons.
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