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Bryant Signs Medication Abortion Restriction, ‘Personhood’ Petition Sees Pushback

Robin Marty

Mississippi politicians aren't sitting still while they wait for the state's only abortion clinic to close. Instead, they're preemptively restricting abortion and even birth control access.

Obtaining a medication abortion, as opposed to a surgical procedure, may become more complicated in Mississippi, a state that has just one abortion clinic. Last week Republican Gov. Phil Bryant signed legislation requiring that individuals who get a medication abortion follow up with the same doctor two weeks later. Meanwhile, voters in the state are pushing back against a proposed “personhood” amendment in the state.

The Jackson Women’s Health Organization remains the sole abortion provider in Mississippi, and a new ruling from a federal judge means that the clinic will continue to operate, at least in the short term, despite its inability to conform with a new targeted regulation of abortion providers (TRAP) law requiring that doctors have admitting privileges to a local hospital in the area. The legal challenges will continue, no doubt, and anti-choice politicians in the state will continue to look for ways to revoke the clinic’s license or otherwise shut off the only place where residents can access safe, legal abortions in Mississippi. But in the meantime, anti-choice activists’ number one goal continues to be restricting abortion access in ways besides shuttering the clinic.

The medication abortion bill is a watered down version of the original, which would have shortened the window of opportunity to have a medication abortion to just seven weeks’ gestation, compared to the current nine weeks, and would have required even more trips to the doctor for face-to-face meetings. Anti-choice activist and former medical board candidate Terri Herring called the final version of the bill “useless” and withdrew her support.

Still, the passage and signing of the bill shows that on the one hand, individuals who oppose reproductive rights in Mississippi are still eagerly seeking out any avenue possible to restrict those rights, while that on the other hand, medical professionals and women’s health advocates are being more active about involving themselves in the legislative process. It also shows that politicians are listening.

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It is in this environment that the state’s latest “personhood” amendment is being introduced. Initiative Measure No. 41 is a second foray into the “legal rights for fertilized eggs” debate, and is nearly identical to the failed Amendment 26 of 2011.  This year the amendment is much more straightforward; it says that a person exists the moment sperm and egg successfully meet. “The right to life begins at conception. All human beings at every stage of development are unique, created in the image of God, and shall enjoy the inalienable right to life as persons under law,” the measure reads.

The wording, God and all, was proposed back on March 5, but has only now been accepted by the state attorney general, which means that the petitioners can now begin to collect signatures. Personhood USA spokesperson Jennifer Mason told the Clarion Ledger that the 2011 initiative was too confusing for many people to understand, especially once complications like banning birth control, prohibiting in vitro fertilization, and other inevitable byproducts of “personhood” were introduced.

Voters are already less than enthused. A group called Mississippi Against Personhood had begun its own signature collection online. “We, the vast majority of the voters of Mississippi who resoundingly voted no on Initiative 26 (the so called Personhood Initiative) in Nov. 2011 demand an end to any renewed Personhood push. The nearly 60% of Mississippians who voted no on this misguided and dangerous proposal were not confused or mislead. We voted no with robust, precise, and accurate knowledge of what our vote meant. Do not waste our state’s time, energy, and already limited resources with another foolhardy Personhood proposal,” reads the petition. “Mississippians already said no to Personhood and we meant it.”

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Reproductive rights are a public health issue. That's a fact.

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