Jun. 26—The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday overturned Roe v. Wade in a ruling on a case that originated in Mississippi. In doing so, states now have the right to regulate and even ban abortions.
Justices voted 6-3 in the Dobbs vs. Jackson Women's Health Organization over a 2018 law enacted by the Mississippi Legislature that bans most abortions after 15 weeks. But nearly all abortions will soon be outlawed in Mississippi.
Mississippi is one of 14 states with a "trigger law," which will take effect 10 days after Mississippi Attorney Lynn Fitch issues an opinion that Roe has been overturned. As of Friday evening, Fitch had not issued the opinion required to start the 10-day clock, but Michelle Williams, chief of staff for Fitch, said the AG's office is currently reviewing the opinion and the trigger law.
The 2007 trigger law only allows physicians to conduct abortions when a mother's life is at stake or when the pregnancy resulted from a rape that has been reported to law enforcement. The law does not allow for an exception for incest.
Statistics compiled by the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, the nation's largest anti-sexual violence organization, show that around two out of three instances of sexual assault go unreported to law enforcement.
A majority of sexual assault survivors choose not to report the incidents to protect the household or victim from further crimes by the offender or to stop the incident from recurring again, according to statistics from the Department of Justice.
House Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, at a media briefing in the House chamber said he would not advocate for tweaking the trigger law to include more exceptions and didn't know if there would be much of an appetite among the House's conservative supermajority to change the law either.
When asked if he thought a survivor of incest should be forced to carry a child to full term, the speaker said yes.
"My personal belief is that life begins at conception," Gunn said.
State leaders now turn to post-Roe world
With Roe overturned, state leaders say they now have to do more to help mothers and young children as an increase in births is expected.
Mississippi is the poorest state in the nation, has a lack of prenatal health care, has the highest infant mortality rate in the nation and one of the highest maternal death rates.
The state's Child Protective Service Department is also still dealing with a long-running lawsuit to address its foster care system.
Health leaders have said one way to improve health outcomes for children and pregnant women is to expand Medicaid access to the working poor and to enhance Medicaid services for mothers after they give birth.
"I am pro-life. I am also pro-child. In addition to protecting the unborn, we must also focus on other ways to support women, children, and families," Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann said.
The Senate this past session passed a bill to extend postpartum Medicaid care for mothers, but the bill died in the House. Hosemann has also been open to discussing expansion of Medicaid and other ways to increase the availability of healthcare for the working poor and indigent in the state.
For his part, Gunn announced the creation of a commission to recommend "Next Steps for Life" policies that the House could pass during its next legislative session. The speaker said the commission would be made up of physicians, pregnancy resource officials and House lawmakers.
When asked if the commission would consider policies such as postpartum Medicaid expansion, the speaker said he would leave it up for them to decide.
Some of Gunn's suggestions for policies the commission would look at are more child protection and foster care options, more affordable adoption practices and enforcing child support collection laws.
Gov. Tate Reeves, who has declined interviews with the Daily Journal and most other Mississippi media outlets, spoke to the Daily Wire about how the state will continue to work toward creating a "culture of life" that will help mothers and children.
Reeves touted investments in Child Protection Services and the Department of Human Services over the past years.
"We are making it easier to adopt a child in our state," Reeves told the Daily Wire. "We are doing things to support — not only the unborn babies — but also those moms who are expecting and whether ... they want the child or they don't want the child — again making it easier for adoptions because we want to help every child find a forever home."
While Mississippi has increased funding in those areas — and created a separate Child Protection Services — the work has come after federal authorities forced the state to address deficiencies.
Both pro- and anti-abortion groups say work continues
Felesha Rowland, director of client services for My Choices Pregnancy Help Clinic in Ripley, said she doesn't believe the Supreme Court's decision will necessarily impact the clinic.
"There will still be unintended, unplanned pregnancies, and the abortion industry has plans in place to help women get to states that still offer abortions," Rowland said. "Mississippi and Tennessee both have trigger laws on the books, so the abortion clinic in Memphis has plans in place to transport women over the state line to Illinois, where abortion is still accessible."
My Choices Pregnancy Help Clinic, which opened in 2006, offers free pregnancy tests, limited obstetric ultrasounds to confirm pregnancy, and parenting and pregnancy education. It serves 200 women and men in the community every year.
"We want women to make a fully informed choice when they're considering an abortion," Rowland said. "We're there to help women. I've been in this business for 20 years, and 80 to 90% of the time, if a woman sees a heartbeat on an ultrasound, she'll choose life. It's vital that they're able to make an informed decision."
Rowland said the clinic is going to continue to walk alongside mothers and their children as the laws change in Mississippi.
"We're thankful our state is the state that has championed this through," she said. "We've taken so many steps to protect the unborn and their mothers."
At Mississippi's only abortion clinic, leaders and volunteers at the Jackson Women's Health Organization came to terms with the new reality: their facility will close soon.
But the officials said their fight to increase reproductive healthcare for women around the country won't end with the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling.
"We're not laying down. We're not giving up," said Diane Derzis, the owner of the women's health building. "Women have always had abortions no matter what it took, even it it was their life. And we're going to make sure that's not on the line here."
Once the trigger law takes effect, the clinic will close. In the interim, Derzis encouraged people to remind pregnant people that the center is still open and receiving patients. But after Mississippi is without a clinic to perform abortions, Derzis said there will be a clinic in New Mexico that can perform the procedure.
Derenda Hancock, co-director of the clinic patient escorts, better known as "Pink House defenders," encouraged people to donate to abortion funds to help people who cannot afford to travel.
"Even though the Pink House defenders will be more or less laying down our torches, it doesn't mean we'll be done," Hancock said. "Stay tuned for Jezebel rebellion."