Lawmakers take tough stand with heartbeat bill

Published 10:35 pm Thursday, February 14, 2019

The Legislature’s passage of a fetal heartbeat bill seems foolish to many. Courts will overturn the law, if the bill makes it that far, wasting precious taxpayer dollars, critics argue. It’s only election-year pandering, they say.

All that may be true. But state lawmakers have put a flag in the ground when it comes to the life of unborn children.

“I see in this country that we protect sea turtle eggs and we protect other endangered species of animals with a greater degree of scrutiny and zealousness than we protect a child in the womb,” Republican Sen. Angela Hill, a sponsor of the bill, said.

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That’s a sentiment many Mississippians likely share. It seems just about every kind of life is valued more than an unborn child’s.

“I believe that life begins at conception so this was a no-brainer for me,” Rep. Becky Currie said about her vote.  “Our hopes are with the Supreme Court changing, and with Ruth Bader Ginsburg probably retiring while President Trump is in office, the makeup of the Supreme Court looks hopeful for this bill.”

That may or may not come to pass. What is certain is Mississippi will have to defend this bill in court if it becomes law. There will be challenges, and the state could easily lose. A similar law in Iowa was struck down last month.

Lawmakers have obviously decided that the costs of defending the legislation are worth it.

“Last year on the 15 week bill we had top-notch legal firms from around the country ask us to let them defend this for free. They, unlike a staff attorney, have expertise in moving things through the Supreme Court and this is what they live for. So the cost is not an issue, it is about saving lives,” Currie said.

Not all Republicans supported the bill. Rep. Missy McGee of Hattiesburg voted against it in the House.

“Today, the Mississippi House of Representatives passed, by a vote of 81-36, a bill which makes it unlawful for a woman to have an abortion under any circumstances — other than to save the life of the mother — once a heartbeat is detected, which is between five and six weeks gestation,” she wrote in a statement. “This was a bill that was pushed through committee last week at the 11th hour on a deadline day. No hearings. No exceptions for rape or incest. No exceptions for if a 100 percentw fatal genetic abnormality is found later in the pregnancy.”

“I struggled with this decision,” she wrote. “Over the past week, I have spoken to my pastor, medical doctors, attorneys, trusted friends and constituents in my district. As one of only 15 women in a legislative body of 122 members, I cannot support legislation that makes such hard line, final decisions for other women; because, in fact, there are painful and heart-wrenching circumstances that do arise and should allow a woman to confer with her faith, her doctor and her family to make what will surely be one of — if not THE — most difficult decision of her life.”

The only thing that’s certain when it comes to this bill is that it will remain contested, just as the state’s 15-week abortion ban is currently being contested in court.

In in the end, it will be the Supreme Court — not state lawmakers — that gets the final say on the matter.