Mississippi is the latest state this legislative season to consider banning abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected, possibly establishing legal challenges to reach a U.S. Supreme Court considered more conservative.
Mississippi House and Senate bills passed legislative committees Feb. 5 and are headed to the chamber floors for consideration, the Associated Press (AP) reported, with court challenges predicted if the measures pass. Both bills have Baptist Republicans as principal authors, namely Rep. Chris Brown and Sen. Angela Burks Hill.
Mississippi Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves praised the measures “to stop the barbaric practice of ending life in the womb even though a heartbeat is plainly detected,” WLBT-TV reported. “I am committed to making Mississippi the safest place in America for an unborn child,” Reeves said.
Mississippi’s bills, identically titled, would allow abortions after the detection of a fetal heartbeat only “when a medical emergency necessitates,” and would allow the State Board of Health to specify how heartbeats are detected, according to the Mississippi Legislature website. Mothers would be required to sign statements indicating they’ve been made aware of the heartbeat, according to the text of the House bill.
“Fetal heartbeat … has become a key, medical predictor that an unborn human individual will reach viability and live birth,” the House bill reads.
“The pregnant woman shall sign a form acknowledging that she has received information from the person intending to perform the abortion that the unborn human individual that she is carrying has a fetal heartbeat,” the bill reads, “and that she is aware of the statistical probability of bringing the unborn human individual that she is carrying to term.”
Fetal heartbeats can be heard with special medical equipment as early as eight to 10 weeks after conception, according to medical websites WedMD.com and Livestrong.com, while ultrasounds can detect hearts beating around four or five weeks after conception. Physicians in violation of the proposed standard could lose their medical licenses or face other discipline.
Tennessee is considering a fetal heartbeat bill for the third consecutive year, and newly elected Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine supports such a measure the previous administration twice vetoed, AP has reported. An Iowa state judge struck down a fetal heartbeat abortion bill there in January, and federal courts in Arkansas and North Dakota also have killed such measures.
On Jan. 22 , New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed what is considered the most permissive abortion bill in the U.S. to date, allowing abortions until birth to protect the mother’s health. A similar Virginia House of Delegates bill, which removes certain restrictions on third trimester abortions, is in committee, according to the Virginia’s Legislative Information System.
Nationwide, Mississippi is among 19 states that limit abortion to 20 weeks of gestation, according to the Guttmacher Institute. Abortions are limited to 24 weeks of gestation in six states, and at the fetus’ “viability” in 16 states, according to Guttmacher, with exceptions made for the mother’s life or health in all 43 states with gestational limitations.