The 2013 legislative session has ended in Mississippi, and Republican Gov. Phil Bryant is signing a number of bills into law. Those laws did not include any significant new restrictions on Mississippians’ abortion rights or access to contraception. But one bill that received Bryant’s signature in April, and which he is now touting as a major achievement this session, may restrict young people’s civil rights more than it protects teens from sexual abuse, as it is claimed to do.
Mississippi anti-choice legislators had a major victory in 2012, when their bill meant to close the state’s sole abortion provider was signed into law. Since then, not only have anti-choice activists been unable to get the courts to agree to close Jackson Women’s Health Organization, they have been mostly unsuccessful at passing the extreme bills that they envisioned.
Advocated by Mississippi Right to Life and the state’s anti-choice activists, the top anti-choice legislative effort for 2013 was to be a restriction on dispensing RU-486, a move that would require additional office visits and follow-ups for women in an effort to force them into surgical abortions by default. Although the bill passed, the final version was much less restrictive than the original; it was panned by anti-choice leaders and failed medical board nominee Terri Herring.
With a failed effort to virtually eliminate medication abortion in the state, and a new “personhood” initiative not on the docket until 2014, there may not have been much for a radically anti-choice governor to hang his hat on this year. However, Bryant has honed in on a somewhat obscure bill that changes reporting requirements on sex crimes, and is now heralded it as one of his signature pieces of legislation, according to reporter and blogger Andy Kopsa.
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HB 151 says that practitioners who perform abortions on people under age 14 must “preserve fetal tissue extracted during the abortion” and test it to determine who impregnated her (despite the fact that the amount of fetal tissue extracted during an early abortion is miniscule). Practitioners will also be required to test the umbilical cord blood of infants born to women under age 16 if it is “reasonable to suspect” that conception could have been a result of a sex crime. The bill defines “reasonable to suspect” in the following way:
It shall be reasonable to suspect that a sex crime against a minor has occurred if the mother of an infant was less than sixteen (16) years of age at the time of conception and at least one (1) of the following conditions also applies:
1. The mother of the infant will not identify the father of the infant;
2. The mother of the infant lists the father of the infant as unknown;
3. The person the mother identifies as the father of the infant disputes his fatherhood;
4. The person the mother identifies as the father of the infant is twenty-one (21) years of age or older; or
5. The person the mother identifies as the father is deceased.
“[T]his bill supposes every teen 16 or under was raped or molested and allows for no interpretation,” writes Kopsa. “Across the board this procedure would be done without permission, veiled as in some way protecting teens.”
The governor signed HB 151 into law on April 23, and it will go into effect July 1.