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STATE POLITICS & POLICY | Mississippi House Approves Measure That Would Restrict Abortions Among Minors

STATE POLITICS & POLICY | Mississippi House Approves Measure That Would Restrict Abortions Among Minors
[March 31, 2008]

On Thursday, the Mississippi House voted 79-41 to approve a bill (HB 520) that would restrict abortions among minors, the Jackson Clarion-Ledger reports. Although the House passed the bill, most representatives said they did not fully understand the measure. The measure initially aimed to penalize people who falsely reported child abuse, but the Senate added several amendments that would further restrict abortion in the state.

Under the Senate amendments, parents or guardians could sue anyone who helps their pregnant minors obtain an abortion without their consent (Chandler, Jackson Clarion-Ledger, 3/28). The amendments also would require that fetal tissue from abortions performed on girls younger than age 14 be saved for DNA testing to determine the father. The bill also would penalize physicians, teachers and other professionals who work with children for failing to report alleged or suspected sexual assault of children.

Rep. Brandon Jones (D), during a one-hour debate on the measure, said it would "criminalize" clergy members who counsel minors considering abortions (AP/Natchez Democrat, 3/28). The measure says that clergy members "shall encourage" reporting of sexual assault, prompting disagreement among lawmakers on whether clergy members would face the same penalties for not reporting suspected abuse as other professionals.

According to the Clarion-Ledger, most House members indicated they did not fully understand the amendments added by the Senate (Jackson Clarion-Ledger, 3/28). Lawmakers considered whether House and Senate leaders should further negotiate the measure before approving it but voted 68-52 against further negotiations. According to the AP/Democrat, Rep. Willie Bailey (D), chair of the House Judiciary Committee, will decide whether to send the bill to Gov. Haley Barbour (R) or let it die when the legislative session ends April 19 (AP/Natchez Democrat, 3/28).


Abortion-rights groups said the amendments would discourage pregnant minors from seeking medical care. Tom Head, secretary of the Mississippi chapter of the National Organization for Women, said the measure could endanger the lives of pregnant minors by "denying them confidential access to medical care." Head said, "I can understand the efforts to try to reduce the number of abortions, but this would threaten lives." He added that the bill could cause the state's infant mortality rate to increase.

Abortion-rights opponents have said the amendments would protect minors from sexual abuse and prosecute people who commit sexual assault on a minor. According to Tanya Britton, spokesperson for Pro-Life Mississippi, the group distributed e-mail "action alerts" to constituents urging them to ask their representatives to vote in favor of the bill (Jackson Clarion-Ledger, 3/28). The Tupelo, Miss.-based American Family Association also posted an alert on its Web site urging constituents to contact House members and "politely but firmly" ask them to support the measure. The group sent mass e-mails to lawmakers corresponding to ZIP codes entered in the Web site by visitors (AP/Natchez Democrat, 3/28).