Politicians in Mississippi have passed a bill that would prohibit abortions after 15 months of pregnancy - a move that would make it the state with the most restrictive legislation on terminations in the country.
The state senate passed 35-14, a measure that would prohibit abortions 15 weeks after a woman’s last last menstrual period. Current Mississippi law bans the procedure after 20 weeks.
The state’s house has already passed a version of the bill. House Bill 1510 will return to the house to reconcile differences between the two versions, Lieutenant Governor Tate Reeves said in a statement.
Republican Governor Phil Bryant will then be passed the measure and he is expected to sign it, Reuters said. He had previously indicated he would do so.
“Mississippians are committed to protecting the lives of unborn children, and this law will be a major step in accomplishing that goal,” said Mr Reeves.
Leslie McGorman, deputy policy director at Pro-Choice America, an abortion rights group, said the measure targeted the state’s only abortion provider, the Jackson Women’s Health Organisation. The clinic provides abortions up to 16 weeks after conception.
“It really only makes sense in the state of Mississippi because of that provider. It has no real gestational significance,” she said.
The clinic told the Clarion-Ledger it would be forced to turn certain patients away and refer them out of state.
Diane Derzis, who owns the clinic, said the bill was unconstitutional following the Supreme Court decisions in the Roe v. Wade case and the 1992 Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v Casey case, which found states could not place “an undue burden” on pregnant women seeking abortions.
“These groups are tossing anything and everything out there, anything that could start winding its way through the legal system because we're in a very fragile place right now,” Ms Derzis said.
“Roe is clearly in danger and that's what they're preparing for. They hope by the time they get to the Supreme Court they will have changed the Supreme Court.”
State Representative Becky Currie, who introduced the measure, did not respond to requests for comment. A similar measure banning abortion 15 weeks after conception also has been introduced in the Louisiana state Senate.
Ms McGorman said abortion rights groups likely would mount a court challenge if the Mississippi measure became law, and anti-abortion organisations then could use the case to test the limits of abortion all the way to the Supreme Court.
The high court legalised abortion in its 1973 Roe v Wade ruling. It has banned prohibiting abortion before the foetus is able to live outside the womb, usually seen at about 20 weeks of gestation.
Seventeen states ban abortion at about 20 weeks after fertilisation or its equivalent of 22 weeks after the woman’s last menstrual period, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which opposes abortion limits.
The Mississippi bill includes an exception in the case of severe fetal abnormality or a medical emergency.
The Guttmacher Institute has said that about 926,200 US abortions were performed in 2014, down 12 per cent from 2011.
A 2017 Gallup poll showed that 49 percent of Americans say they support abortion and 46 per cent oppose it.
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