Amended bill could toughen abortion laws

Published 5:00 am Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Mississippi’s abortion laws, already among the most stringent inthe nation, may be toughened even more.

The House voted last week to send a heavily amended child abusebill straight through the chamber, despite its return from theSenate with eight pages of amendments involving abortion. Thebill’s future is pending, as it was ultimately held on a motion toreconsider and would die if it is not brought up for discussionagain before the session’s April 19 conclusion.

In its amended form, the bill says parents, teachers, clergymen,physicians, film developers and even neighbors could be held inviolation of the law for failing to report suspected or allegedchild abuse or pregnancy of a minor to the authorities.

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The vote on the bill, HB 520, was not a vote of yea or nay, butrather a vote whether to send the bill into conference for furtherexamination or approve immediately. All three local representativesvoted to approve the bill as is, though their opinions on the billvary.

“Some folks tried to make it a political issue – to see who waspro-life and who wasn’t,” said District 53 Rep. Bobby Moak, D-BogueChitto.

Moak said that few in the House actually bothered to read theeight pages of amendments to the child abuse bill, but insteadshowed immediate approval of the Senate’s work.

“There may have been 10 folks in the House that actually pulledup the amendments and read them while the debate was going on,”Moak said. “Even the guy who had made the motion to adopt the billand not go into conference admitted that he had not read it,either.”

Since the bill was held for reconsideration, Moak said he wouldsupport a further examination of the Senate’s language in thebill’s many amendments. He said he doubted the bill would surviveafter reconsideration because of the manner in which it was handledin the House.

Despite the procedural issues surrounding the bill, Moak alsoquestioned whether not its demands were a step too far.

“We don’t need to make criminals out of someone who has asuspicion and doesn’t say anything,” he said. “Neither do we wantto cast a light on somebody who may actually be guilty of nothing.It sounds sort of like a Big Brother issue.”

District 91 Rep. Bob Evans, D-Monticello, also took issue withthe bill’s stipulations and the way in which it was presented,saying that it was just another political showdown in theHouse.

“The person who came forward to speak in favor of the billstated that it was just another way for all of us to show whetherwe were pro-life or pro-choice,” Evans said. “He admitted that onthe floor of the House.”

Evans pointed out that Mississippi’s abortion laws are alreadystrict – the state even has laws in place waiting to take effect ifRoe vs. Wade is ever overturned on a federal level. As for HB 520,Evans said he was concerned about the rights of families.

“On the face of it, it doesn’t sound bad,” Evans said. “On theother hand, if this is something of a personal note that a familywanted to keep private, they would technically become lawbreakersand subject to punishment. I have some real concerns about theprivacy rights of people, particularly families, being trampledupon.”

District 92 Rep. Becky Currie, R-Brookhaven, had no concernswhatsoever with the bill.

“We fought and made sure that we didn’t send it to conference,because if it went to conference that chance that it would comeback different would be high,” she said. “If you were truly againstchild abuse and pro-life, how could you say no to that bill?”

Currie pointed out that health care providers have shoulderedthe responsibility of notification of child abuse for a long time.Ahe believes that other professionals, even clergymen andpsychiatrists, should break confidentiality codes in compliancewith HB 520.

“If they actively know there’s a child in danger, personally Idon’t think they have the right not to report it,” she said. “Childabuse is rampant, and we’ve got to get a hold of it.”