Mississippi governor to sign bill banning abortion at 20 weeks

Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant said Tuesday that he looks forward to quickly signing a bill that would ban abortion at 20 weeks, the midpoint of a full-term pregnancy.

"This measure represents a great effort to protect the unborn in Mississippi," Bryant said in a statement after House Bill 1400 passed the House 91-20 and the Senate 41-10.

The bill has exceptions. Abortion would still be allowed at or after 20 weeks if the woman faces death or permanent injury because of the pregnancy. It would also be allowed in cases of severe fetal abnormality.

Diane Derzis, who owns Mississippi's only abortion clinic, Jackson Women's Health Organization, said the clinic stops doing abortions after 16 weeks' gestation. She said each woman undergoes a sonogram to determine fetal age.

Although the clinic would not be affected by the new law, Derzis said she expects someone would file a legal challenge.

The most recent Health Department statistics show 2,176 abortions were done in Mississippi in 2012. Two were listed at 21 weeks or later, and 382 were unknown gestational age. Supporters of the bill said they were troubled by the number of unknowns.

Several states have a 20-week ban, including Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas.

Arizona's 20-week ban has been blocked by a federal court, but supporters of the Mississippi proposal point out that Mississippi is in a more conservative federal appeals court district, so a legal challenge might have a different outcome.

Sen. Deborah Dawkins, D-Pass Christian, said a 20-week ban will affect poor women. She said those who have money and want an abortion could still travel out of state to get one.

"It occurs to me, over the past few years, that a lot of men do not understand how a female body works," said Dawkins, who voted against the bill.

Sen. Angela Hill, R-Poplarville, who voted for the bill, said: "This is not about a woman's body. This is about the life of an unborn 20-week baby."