St. Patrick students preparing for March for Life event

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www.wxxv25.com – Jazell Ladner – 2023-01-20 17:44:16

St. Patrick Catholic High School students along with other Catholic schools will be participating in the March for Life event happening this weekend.

March for Life is a national event and every year, pro-lifers walk on the National Mall and march on Capitol Hill on the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe vs. Wade ruling which legalized in all 50 states.

The Supreme Court overturned that decision in 2022.

Three seniors from St. Patrick Catholic High School in are preparing for this weekend to March for Life here on the Coast. Each student has…

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Lawmakers pass $247M in incentives for aluminum mill


Lawmakers pass $247M in incentives for aluminum mill

The Mississippi , in a one-day special session with only a handful of dissenting votes, approved $247 million in taxpayer-funded incentives to help a company build an aluminum mill and other operations near Columbus and create at least 1,000 jobs.

Lt. Gov. Hosemann said Mississippi was in competition with at least two other states for the project. Gov. Tate Reeves said Monday when he called the special session on short notice that the incentive package needed to be approved quickly to help the company with “speed to market” and ensure the mill was built in Mississippi.

officials said they agreed not to name the company until the deal was inked, and referred to the deal as “Project Triple Crown” during Capitol deliberations Wednesday. But numerous sources and industry trade journals said the parent of the deal is Fort Wayne, Indiana-based Steel Dynamics, the third-largest producer of carbon steel products in the U.S.

The company already has a steel plant in Columbus. Over the summer, Steel Dynamics announced plans to build three large facilities — including one in the Southeast — to supply the automotive and packaging industries with flat-rolled recycled aluminum material. An officer for Steel Dynamic recently filed paperwork with the state registering Aluminum Dynamics LLC in Mississippi.

“A $2.5 billion project doesn’t come to Mississippi very often,” Hosemann said, “but it will be happening more often because Mississippi is open for business.”

House Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, said the project “would be a big economic development opportunity for the Golden Triangle, creating at least a 1,000 jobs and hopefully economic prosperity.”

(Note: Details of deal are itemized below in this article)

While there were few dissenting votes on Wednesday, Democrats and even some Republicans questioned why lawmakers rushed to pass the incentives deal while ignoring other problems pressing the state.

When asked about why lawmakers were not spending or passing policy to tackle water infrastructure woes, hospital closures and other urgent issues, Hosemann noted that only the governor can call lawmakers into special session and set the agenda. He vowed the Legislature will tackle such issues when the regular session starts in January.

“In about eight weeks you’ll see us tackling all the rest of it,” Hosemann said. “This particular Legislature has not been timid in looking at issues and I anticipate those issues will range from water and sewer to hospitals and just about anything else the Legislature thinks should be addressed.”

The bills for the incentives passed the 122-member House with only five “no” votes — all from conservative or Libertarian leaning Republicans who oppose “corporate welfare.” Four House Democrats voted present. In the Senate, the measures passed with no dissent and only Kathy Chism, R-New Albany, present.

Rep. Robert Johnson, D-Natchez, expresses his concerns during a press conference about Gov. Tate Reeves’ plan for an economic development project after the Senate passed it during a special session at the Mississippi Capitol in Jackson, Wednesday, November 2, 2022.

But legislative Democrats held a conference during Wednesday’s session to point out emergency needs facing the state.

“No one here is arguing that economic development isn’t a good thing,” Rep. Robert Johnson of Natchez, the House Democratic leader, said Wednesday on the south steps of the state Capitol. “But while we’re in this building, facing a crisis that affects each and every Mississippian, we should talk about solutions. It would be malpractice to walk out of here, at the height of this crisis, without passing legislation that would begin to address the myriad issues facing our state’s system.”

Given past boondoggles that left Mississippi taxpayers on the hook for millions when companies went belly-up or didn’t deliver jobs for incentives, legislative leaders assured their colleagues Wednesday that this deal includes stringent “clawback” and other measures to protect the state.

“I think these are the strictest clawbacks we’ve ever done,” said Senate Finance Chairman Josh Harkins, R-Flowood. “In large part, it wouldn’t even be clawback — it’s on reimbursement. We’re not just going to cut them a check up front. It will be provided as reimbursement once they’ve done certain things … This is a strong, performance-based contract, if you will. They’ve got to produce to get incentives.”

Tax rebates and abatements would be suspended if the company didn’t meet job and investment benchmarks laid out in phases, lawmakers said, although state Rep. Shanda Yates, I-Jackson, noted during floor debate that the language in the bills said the Mississippi Development Authority “may” enforce clawbacks and suspensions, not “shall.”

House Ways and Means Chairman Trey Lamar said this was to give MDA ability to negotiate with the company to get it back in compliance and he assured colleagues state taxpayers would be protected. He said that all clawback provisions are with the parent company, which is “well-heeled” and not a start-up like some of the companies that burned the state in the past.

Reeves and others called the deal the largest economic development project in state history, and said the company is promising the average salary for the jobs will be $93,000 a year. Hosemann said he was told the lowest salaries for the project would be “$58,000 plus bonuses.”

Lamar said: “This will be life-changing money for families not used to making that much money here in the state of Mississippi.”

Some highlights of the “Triple Crown” deal:

  • Lawmakers authorized state borrowing up to $246.7 million — enough to cover the entire incentives package the company wants, including grants, road work, tax breaks and land. This was to ensure the company all incentives are guaranteed. But lawmakers approved spending $81.1 million in cash up front, and said they hope to not borrow any money for the deal but pay cash as it goes along as long as state finances remain rosy. The first borrowing would not take place for three years, regardless, Hosemann said.
  • The incentives include $155 million in grants for the company. This would include $54 million in a first payment, then other “tranches” as various buildout and hiring goals are met. The state is also loaning $18 million to Lowndes County to purchase the remainder of the 2,100 acres the company plans to use. The grants also include $25.1 million in state road work for the project.
  • The incentives include up to $92 million in tax incentives and rebates, much of this tied to jobs created. Because the state is still considering massive tax cuts or elimination, the state will guarantee up to $45 million in a reserve account if the company keeps adding jobs, even if lawmakers eliminate or cut taxes further. Lowndes County is also providing major local tax breaks for the company.
  • The company is pledging to invest $1.9 billion in a recycled aluminum flat rolled mill and create 700 jobs. It pledges to invest $150 million in a “Renewable biocarbon facility” and create 40 jobs. An MDA official told lawmakers this plant would burn organic material to create ash that would provide feed stock for steel production.
  • The company has pledged $200 million in investment and 160 jobs from other businesses — customers and suppliers — locating at its new aluminum mill campus. Lawmakers said that although this would be other companies, the parent mill company would be on the hook for this as part of the incentives deal. The company has also promised to invest $250 million in a “Future project to be named later” and create at least 100 jobs.

Flanked by the primarily African American Democratic legislative caucus, Johnson dropped to ground bills that would:

  • Expand to provide coverage to primarily the working poor.
  • Provide $40 million to the beleaguered Jackson water system to deal with immediate issues regarding accessible and quality drinking water.
  • Provide grant funds for rural hospitals.

He said those bills were ready to be taken up immediately if the governor would include them in the special session. The governor has indicated those issues can be considered during the regular session.

Johnson pointed out state Health Officer Dr. Dan Edney recently said as many as six hospitals were in danger of closing.

The closure of the hospitals would negatively impact Mississippi’s health care outcomes that already are the worst in the nation. The hospital woes are occurring, Johnson said, as state officials projected an additional 5,000 births per year with the Supreme Court decision giving states the right to ban as Mississippi has done.

In addition to being issues of life and in terms of having quality water and accessible health care, the Democrats said they also were economic development issues.

Derrick Simmons of Greenville, the Senate Democratic leader, said expanding Medicaid, by accepting more than $1 billion annually in federal funds for health care would provide more economic development for the state than the aluminum plant.

The closing of the hospitals in Greenville and Greenwood would result in greater job losses than the aluminum would produce.

“Apparently, only new jobs constitute an emergency meeting of the Legislature,” Simmons said. “The jobs that hardworking continue to lose as hospitals close do not. That logic doesn’t add up.”

On social media, state Rep. Zakiya Summers, D-Jackson, said, “Mississippi needs economic development. Yet we are not having a special session on the water crisis or hospitals closures happening across the state. Mississippi needs those basic services as well.”

Johnson said the economic development package could have been passed in the regular session, beginning in January. Instead, he called the special session “a campaign event — a political pep rally” for the governor.

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Election: Young confident in 3rd District U.S House seat


Young confident in 3rd District U.S House seat despite incumbent Guest being heavy favorite

The 3rd District, like three of the four Mississippi congressional districts, is a Republican stronghold.

In 2008, Democratic Pickens Mayor Joel Gill garnered 37.5% of the vote in the 3rd District congressional race against Republican attorney Gregg Harper of Rankin County. In 2018, Democratic Rep. Michael Ted Evans captured 36.7% of the vote against Republican District Attorney Michael Guest.

Those two elections, both for open seats, were the best Democrats could do in the 3rd District since congressional redistricting following the 2000 U.S. Census.

There are contested races on Nov. 8 in all four of the state’s U.S. House seats. In the 2nd District, Democratic incumbent Bennie Thompson is a favorite to win re-election. In the other three, including the 3rd, the Republicans are the heavy favorites.

Still, Democrat Shuwaski Young, grandson of a civil rights leader in his native Neshoba County, says he believes he can be victorious on Nov. 8 against the incumbent Guest.

“I’m actually running in this race because I honestly believe … I’m the best person to lead the 3rd Congressional District, not only from an economic standpoint in bringing new business into our state, but also can bring a new politics, one of which respects compassion and love for everyone,” Young said on Mississippi Today’s “The Other Side” podcast. Guest has also been invited to appear on the podcast but has not accepted.

On first blush, Guest does appear to have some vulnerabilities. He barely won the Republican primary earlier this year against 2020 election denier Michael Cassidy. Cassidy was the top vote-getter in the primary and was a little more than 2,400 votes short of gaining the majority needed to win the election outright and avoid a runoff against Guest. But after surviving that first primary, the incumbent Guest, with a mammoth campaign cash advantage, easily defeated Cassidy in the runoff election.

Cassidy hit Guest for being one of the few Republicans in Congress to vote for the formation of a bipartisan commission to investigate the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol by President Donald Trump’s supporters who were intent on overturning the results of the 2020 presidential election. But when Senate Republicans blocked efforts to form the commission, Guest voted against the House optional plan to create a committee solely of House members to investigate the Jan. 6 attacks on the Capitol.

READ MORE: Michael Guest breaks Republican ranks to support Bennie Thompson’s Jan. 6 commission

But Guest has his own election denial bona fides. He voted to block the certification of the November 2020 election result citing voter irregularities, though more than 50 court challenges of the election results — and many before judges appointed by Trump — were denied.

“If we don’t act now, there is nothing to stop these violations from undermining future elections,” Guest said at the time of a filed by the Texas trying to throw out millions of votes. The lawsuit, which was rejected by the said Democrat Joe Biden “had less than one in a quadrillion to the fourth power” chance of winning the election in four key swing states.

Of the effort to overturn the election by throwing out millions of votes that the courts repeatedly said were valid, Young said, “What we saw in our congressman was someone who failed to recognize and respect and serve democracy as it should have been served on Jan. 6. Michael Guest voted to decertify the 2020 presidential election.”

Guest has a huge financial advantage over Young. According to Federal Elections Commission reports, Guest has spent $1.4 million since July 2021, and boasts a cash on hand total of $149.152. Young, meanwhile, has spent $67,711 and has cash on hand of $837.

Young worked in the office of the Mississippi Secretary of State during the tenure of Eric Clark and among other duties conducted training for local election commissioners. Young also worked in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security overseeing a domestic terrorism awareness program.

Guest, age 52, served as district attorney for Rankin and Madison counties in suburban Jackson from 2008 until 2019 when he was elected to his current position. Guest ran for and won the open 3rd District seat when the incumbent Harper opted not to seek re-election.

Guest, according to his campaign website, is committed to “conservative values and support for free market economic policies of lower taxes, few regulations, and promoting our constitutional freedoms and liberties, including the right to life of the unborn and our 2nd Amendment rights.” He also stresses the need for tight control of U.S. borders to prevent undocumented immigrants from entering the country.

Guest has sent mixed messages of the issue of . He supported the successful effort to overturn that provided a national right to an abortion. He said the issue of abortion should be left up to the states to decide. But soon after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, he signed on as a co-sponsor of federal legislation that would ban most abortions after six weeks and would not provide an exception for rape.

Guest did not respond to Mississippi Today’s effort to glean clarification on the abortion issue.

Young has said he supports Congress passing a law essentially reinstating the Roe v. Wade abortion parameters that granted a right to an abortion in the first trimester.

For the most part, Guest has been a solid vote for the Republican leadership. He recently voted against the bipartisan infrastructure legislation that was opposed by all Republican members of the Mississippi congressional delegation except U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker.

“Roads, bridges, broadband, ports, rail, and clean water are the building blocks of a healthy economy. This legislation focuses on those core priorities, and I am happy to see it finally signed into law,” Wicker said at the time.

“Mississippi will soon see major investments in our state’s hard infrastructure, including $3.3 billion for roads and highways, $225 million for bridge replacement and repairs, a minimum of $100 million for broadband infrastructure, $283 million for water infrastructure, and significant funding for Army Corps of Engineers projects and port and rail improvements.”

In contrast, Guest said on WJTV of his vote against the infrastructure bill: “I believe that we need to balance investment and infrastructure with being fiscally responsible, and so while there were parts of the infrastructure bill that I supported, the money that was going to roads and bridges, water and sewage, money to expand rural broadband, there were also other parts of the bill that Mississippi will not benefit from.”

Guest also opposed the continuing resolution funding the U.S. government even though the legislation had $20 million for the work on the beleaguered Jackson water system. Guest has said he supports providing federal funds to help improve the system, but said the continuing resolution contained many other items he opposed.

Young said he has challenged Guest to debate, but the incumbent will not respond.

“He can’t answer why he voted against the bipartisan infrastructure bill. He can’t answer why he voted against the Freedom to Vote Act,” said Young, pointing out other “no” votes by Guest including on the Violence Against Women Act.

Young said he supports tax breaks for small businesses and protecting Social Security.

He said a Mississippi congressman “can’t be too far right. They can’t be too far left. I think that is what I can do.”

In the other three congressional races:

  • 1st District incumbent Republican Trent faces Democrat Dianne Dodson Black, an Olive Branch small business owner. She is the first African American woman to serve as a major party nominee in the district in the modern era.
  • 2nd District incumbent Democrat Bennie Thompson faces Republican Brian Flowers of Clinton. Flowers, a Navy veteran, works in mechanical planning at the Grand Gulf Nuclear Power Plant near Port Gibson.
  • Republican Mike Ezell faces off against Democrat Johnny DuPree in the 4th District. Libertarian Alden Patrick Johnson also is on the ballot. Ezell, the sheriff of Jackson County, defeated incumbent Steven Palazzo earlier this year in the Republican primary, DuPree, former mayor of Hattiesburg, also has unsuccessfully for governor and secretary of state. In 2011, DuPree became the first African American major party nominee for governor.

The ballot also will include judicial races. Four Court of Appeals races are on the ballot. In the only contested Court of Appeals race, incumbent 4th District Judge Virginia Carlton is being challenged by Bruce Burton.

This article first on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

12,000 poor Mississippi kids slated to lose child care


12,000 poor Mississippi kids slated to lose child care, welfare chief warns lawmakers

The number of spots in child care for poor children in Mississippi will be reduced by 12,470 in September 2024 when the ’s allotment of federal relief funds is exhausted, a special Senate committee was warned on Tuesday.

The Mississippi Department of Human Services is currently using a substantial portion of its federal COVID-19 relief funds to open more spots in child care for poor parents working in low paying jobs, going to school or looking for employment.

But those COVID-19 funds are to be spent by September 2024, meaning the state will have only its normal federal appropriations to direct to the child care block grant, said Bob Anderson, the executive director of the Mississippi Department of Human Services.

The state is using the federal child care funds to provide services to 35,646 children across the state, according to latest statistics. But the COVID-19 funds the Department of Human Services is directing to child care is paying for the services for more than 12,400 of the children.

Anderson’s revelation came at hearings held by a special state Senate panel of lawmakers who have said they aim to pass policies to help women and children following the ’s striking down of .

The nine-member Senate Study Group on Women, Children and Families, chaired by Sen. Nicole Akins Boyd, R-Oxford, was announced by Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann after the nation’s high court in June struck down longstanding Roe v. Wade and a dormant Mississippi ban on the books subsequently took effect. Hosemann said it’s now incumbent on lawmakers to come up with policies to help mothers and children as experts predict the state will see an additional 5,000 unplanned births a year.

State Sen. Rod Hickman, a Democrat from Macon, asked Anderson at Tuesday’s hearing whether the state could use a portion of its federal TANF funds, normally called welfare benefits, to pay for the child care spots the state is slated to lose in September 2024.

Anderson said using TANF funds to shore up the child care program is “an option we are exploring.”

“We would be allowed to use up to 30% of the funds,” Anderson said. “But understand, people have a lot of other plans for that money as well. But yes, that’s always an option, assuming we haven’t already committed some of it.”

Mississippi is currently leaving about $18 million in available TANF funds on the table, according to information MDHS provided to Mississippi Today as well as a review of public expenditures. That could provide a year’s worth of vouchers for 4,600 children based on the 2022 reimbursement rate of $3,911 annually. In the most recent available federal report for 2020, Mississippi had an unused balance of roughly $50 million in federal TANF funds.

Anderson said that ultimately he would make the decision whether to convert some of the TANF funds to the Child Care Development Fund program.

Health, education and business experts told the panel Tuesday that lack of affordable child care is a major impediment to Mississippi moving forward economically and socially.

READ MORE: ‘We’re 50th by a mile.’ Experts tell lawmakers where Mississippi stands with health of mothers, children

“The number-one topic that continually comes up is child care, or lack of available child care,” said Ryan Miller, director of Accelerate Mississippi, the state’s workforce development agency. “It is a real issue, and anecdotally, industry has been saying this for years.”

Miller said lawmakers should consider tax or other financial incentives for businesses to create child care programs, consider providing more state funding for programs and eliminate policies that thwart single parents’ access to child care. Miller and others testifying Tuesday said that MDHS’ requirement — per state law — that single mothers identify a child’s father before receiving benefits such as child care appears to keep some from applying.

Boyd said she has heard this brought up repeatedly during committee research.

“I think there are issues about not only feeling like they’re being judged, but probably some protection reasons, safety for the mother,” Boyd said of the requirement.

Other requirements that prevent people from getting child care assistance — and thus from joining the workforce — include a state provision that single mothers turn their child support cases over to the state to participate in the federally funded Child Care Payment Program.

Gov. Tate Reeves’ appointed State Early Childhood Advisory Council has already recommended that the governor instruct MDHS this requirement, but it has not done so.

Anderson also told lawmakers how the so-called HOPE Act, passed in 2017 at the behest of the state’s Republican leadership to crack down on fraud in federal programs administered by the state for poor people, was actually costing the state money. The program looks for fraud by those receiving benefits through Medicaid, Temporary Aid for Needy Families and other welfare-related programs.

Hickman questioned some experts who testified Tuesday about strict regulations Mississippi has put in place in the name of fraud prevention that instead just prevent people from applying or qualifying for programs.

Mississippi has in recent years been plagued with fraud and embezzlement of government money, but it has mostly been perpetrated by powerful politicians, bureaucrats and business leaders, not the beneficiaries of the programs. Notably, investigations continue into or misspending of tens of millions of TANF dollars, not by the few people who receive the benefits, but by those who were supposed to administer them or provide services.

“I believe in preventing fraud, but we need ideas that make sense and not just provide barriers to poor people receiving help,” Hickman said. “We’ve seen the amount of people applying for benefits dramatically dropped when we made all these requirements … But so much keeps getting fed into this thought that poor people are creating the fraud.”

Anderson said that MDHS is being required to create fraud and abuse systems “that we will never use” because they are redundant or not needed.

“It’s costing the state,” Anderson said.

Hickman asked Anderson if “we are costing the state by over-policing poor people” through the HOPE Act, Anderson said essentially that is true. Anderson, a former prosecutor who worked on governmental fraud cases, said fraud by the poor is “not a big part of the problem.”

He said the last two years prove that as the welfare fraud case has unfolded in Mississippi where numerous private contractors and those close to the contractors have benefitted from the program.

The Mississippi Low-Income Childcare Initiative, led by longtime advocate Carol Burnett, is among numerous groups outlining issues faced by women and children in Mississippi and making policy recommendations to the Senate panel.

In a written statement to the committee, the initiative’s recommendations include:

  • Reducing the mounds of red tape single mothers face in enrolling in and staying in the federally funded Child Care Payment Program.
  • Mississippi using “every dollar it can” on childcare assistance to serve more families. Currently, only about 25% of eligible children are served.
  • Extending postpartum Medicaid for new moms from the current two months to 12 months.

This article first on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Health issues facing mothers and children in Mississippi


Data Dive: Health issues facing mothers and children in Mississippi

A number of challenges continue to burden the mothers and children of Mississippi, especially after the landmark decision that overturned Roe v. Wade and allowed Mississippi’s abortion trigger law to go into effect, banning in nearly all cases.

In the wake of Roe’s overturning, advocates and activists have put even more pressure on leaders to help rectify problems such as postpartum expansion, overall access to , infant mortality and more.

On Sept. 27, the Senate Study Group on Women, Children and Families, a committee created by Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann, held the first of a series of hearings to ascertain the breadth of these issues.

As reported by Senior Political Reporter Geoff Pender, “46% of Mississippi children are in single-parent homes. One in five children experienced hunger in the last year. Nine out of 1,000 babies in Mississippi die. In the rural Delta, there are 4,000 children for every one pediatrician — statewide that number drops only to 2,000 per — and many counties have no OB/GYN. Many mothers do not receive proper prenatal or postpartum care. Mississippi has alarming rates of premature, low-weight babies being born.”

READ MORE: ‘We’re 50th by a mile.’ Experts tell lawmakers where Mississippi stands with health of mothers, children

Organizations representing Black women have criticized the Senate committee for the lack of members who are Black women, with only one out of nine members.

“Black women and babies experience a disproportionate share of the state’s highest-in-the-nation rates of stillbirth, low birth weight, and infant mortality,” writes Pender.

“What we’re asking for here is just a right to life,” said Angela Grayson, lead organizer for Black Women Vote Coalition and advocacy and outreach coordinator for The . “The data is here. The data shows that [extending postpartum Medicaid coverage] is good legislation and that that is what we need here in Mississippi for Black women to be able to go through the childbirth experience and not have the unnecessary burdens of inadequate health care.”

Community Health Reporter Isabelle Taft reports that according to the latest data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Mississippi remains the deadliest state for babies.

In the United States as a whole, 5.42 per 1,000 live births died before their first birthday. In Mississippi, those figures only continue to rise — 5.7 among white infants, 8.12 statewide and 11.8 among Black infants.

And among the leading causes of infant mortality, while birth defects lead the nation, Mississippi infants mostly face premature birth — the highest rate in the country, pregnancy and delivery complications, and Sudden Infant Syndrome, or SIDS.

READ MORE: Mississippi remains deadliest state for babies, CDC data shows

This article first on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

‘We’re 50th by a mile.’ Experts tell lawmakers where Mississippi stands with health of mothers, children


‘We’re 50th by a mile.’ Experts tell lawmakers where Mississippi stands with health of mothers, children

A panel of lawmakers trying to come up with policies to help women and children post- ban heard a familiar refrain from experts Tuesday: Mississippi ranks worst or near-worst in infant and maternal mortality, poverty, hunger, access to and child care and many other pertinent statistics.

“… This means 39% of children in Mississippi belong to households with no full-time working parent,” said Heather Hanna, assistant research professor at the Mississippi University Social Science Research Center. “… 43% of Black children in Mississippi live in poverty … Women in Mississippi have higher rates of educational attainment than men, yet earn less.”

The disheartening stats from various experts continued for much of the day — 46% of Mississippi children are in single-parent homes. One in five children experienced hunger in the last year. Nine out of 1,000 babies in Mississippi die. In the rural Delta, there are 4,000 children for every one pediatrician — statewide that number drops only to 2,000 per — and many counties have no OB/GYN. Many mothers do not receive proper prenatal or postpartum care. Mississippi has alarming rates of premature, low-weight babies being born.

Young women have problems obtaining or affording long-acting, reversible contraception. The state Health Department is estimating Mississippi will see an additional 5,000 unplanned pregnancies a year now that abortions are banned here.

The Senate Study Group on Women, Children and Families opened the first of four planned hearings with an examination of the extent of the problem. The committee was announced by Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann after the in June struck down longstanding Roe v. Wade and a dormant Mississippi abortion ban on the books subsequently took effect. Hosemann said it’s now incumbent on lawmakers to come up with policies to help mothers and children. House Speaker Philip Gunn has also created a commission with a similar charge.

“As a state we are in the wrong place on a lot of lists,” Dr. LouAnn Woodward, vice chancellor at the , told the nine-member, bipartisan committee on Tuesday.

Dr. Daniel Edney, director of the state Department of Health, showed lawmakers a chart with a national report card that ranks states on numerous health issues.

“We’re not just 50th,” Edney said. “We’re 50th by a mile. I think if we had 60 states we’d be 60th … The Department of Health is absolutely committed to work with you and do whatever it takes to get us off the bottom.”

Tuesday’s hearing was open to the public and the committee is asking for written testimony from the public, which can be emailed to WCFStudyGroup@senate.ms.gov. The comments will be presented to the full committee.

A large part of the hearing’s audience — many of those who were not lobbyists or government staffers — walked out of the hearing, holding hand-made signs, briefly mid-morning Tuesday to hold a press conference organized by leaders of organizations representing Black women. Black women and babies experience a disproportionate share of the state’s highest-in-the-nation rates of stillbirth, low birth weight, and infant mortality. They said the statistics about the state’s problems are old , and the title of the press conference was “We are the Data.” They complained about a lack of Black women on the Senate committee — only one of the nine members — and among Tuesday’s presenters.

They want to see some action from lawmakers, and many had come to call on lawmakers to extend postpartum coverage for mothers — a subject of much debate in Mississippi over the last year.

“What we’re asking for here is just a right to life,” said Angela Grayson, lead organizer for Black Women Vote Coalition and advocacy and outreach coordinator for The . “The data is here. The data shows that this is good legislation and that that is what we need here in Mississippi for Black women to be able to go through the childbirth experience and not have the unnecessary burdens of inadequate health care.”

In Mississippi, about 60% of births are to women on Medicaid. The Senate in this year’s legislative session attempted to extend standard postpartum Medicaid coverage from 60 days to 12 months, an effort to help combat high maternal mortality rates and other health problems for mothers and children. The House shot down the proposal, with House Speaker Philip Gunn linking extension of postpartum coverage to general Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act. Gunn and other Mississippi Republicans have fought Medicaid expansion under “Obamacare” for years, and Mississippi remains one of 12 states that has not expanded coverage.

On Tuesday, Woodward, Edney and other presenters voiced support for extending postpartum Medicaid coverage.

Mississippi Medicaid Director Drew Snyder, when asked his opinion on extending postpartum Medicaid coverage, to sidestep the question with a lengthy word salad. But he noted that extending postpartum coverage is “a different” discussion from general Medicaid expansion under the ACA and said, “I don’t think it poses long-term sustainability questions like ACA expansion does.”

Snyder advised lawmakers considering postpartum extension: “if you do it, do it because you believe it will help mothers and children, don’t do it because others say you’re being cruel and heartless.”

Sen. Nicole Akins Boyd, R-Oxford, is chair of the new Study Group on Women, Children and Families, which will continue hearings on Wednesday, then on Oct. 25 and 26.

Boyd said part of Woodward’s presentation stood out to her.

“She said that a 20% decrease in low-birth-weight babies at UMMC’s (Newborn Intensive Care Unit) would save about $8 million a year,” Boyd said. “Extending postpartum Medicaid coverage would cost about $7 million, so that would pay for it.”

Mississippi Today staff writer Isabelle Taft contributed to this report.

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Wicker weighs in on national abortion ban proposal


Sen. Wicker the only Mississippi Republican to weigh in on national abortion ban proposal

U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker was the only member of Mississippi’s Republican congressional delegation to respond to questions this week about a proposal to impose a nationwide ban on abortions after 15 weeks.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, recently proposed the 15-week ban in the aftermath of the overturning the national right to an in June in a watershed case from Mississippi. The ruling — Dobbs v. — meant the decision on whether to allow or to restrict abortions would be for each individual to make.

The fact that the state of Mississippi is in a real sense ground zero for the current abortion debate, thanks to the Dobbs case, makes the comments of the state’s congressional delegation relevant.

But were all silent — except for Wicker.

“The Senate Republican conference is unified in seeking as many pro-life protections as possible for all Americans, but this goal has historically shown to be most effectively achieved when legislated at the local level,” Wicker said in a statement.

Graham, of course, is touting national legislation on abortion.

It would be fair to say that some Republican candidates are backtracking on their position on abortion as the November midterm elections approach. Polls in many states, including Mississippi, indicate that the Supreme Court action overturning , which provided the national right to an abortion, might not be as popular as some conservatives thought it would be. Voters in conservative Kansas rejected a state constitutional amendment that would have made it easier for the to ban abortion.

That vote was a wake-up call for many.

In May before the Supreme Court had overturned Roe v. Wade, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said that it was “possible” that a Republican-majority Senate might vote next year on legislation to place a federal ban on abortions.

But more recently as McConnell is trying to elect enough Republicans in November to capture a Senate majority, he’s changed his tune.

Speaking on Graham’s proposal for a national 15-week ban, McConnell said, “You’ll have to ask him about it. In terms of scheduling, I think most of the members of my conference prefer that this be dealt with at the state level.”

It is important to note that under Graham’s proposal there would be a 15-week national ban but states that chose to have stricter bans, like Mississippi, would not be prevented from doing so. Mississippi bans all abortions except in the case of rape and to preserve the life of the mother. In addition, Mississippi has another law that bans abortions after six weeks except in cases of medical emergency.

Wicker pointed out Mississippi has led the way in terms of anti-abortion advocacy.

“I hope that Mississippi’s strong laws defending the unborn can serve as a model for my colleagues and help them make a difference in their respective states,” Wicker said. “We cannot allow partisan spin to undermine our determination to fight for the rights of the unborn, including at the federal level.”

It is fair to say that Wicker was a groundbreaker in terms of passing laws to restrict abortion in Mississippi. As a state senator representing Lee and Pontotoc counties in northeast Mississippi in the late 1980s and early 90s, he was one of the leaders in passing legislation enacting a 24-hour waiting period on having an abortion and imposing additional restrictions on abortion clinics.

At that time, few states were passing such legislation.

While Wicker was the only one of the five Republicans in the congressional delegation to comment on the Graham bill, all of them in the past have expressed strong anti-abortion views. Mississippi’s only Democrat in the congressional delegation – Bennie Thompson – voted for a bill that essentially would have restored the Roe v. Wade standards. That bill passed the U.S. House, but was blocked by Senate Republicans.

The issue of abortion, no doubt, will be a major issue in the November elections. Polls indicate that the issue of abortion could provide Democrats a boost. But in Mississippi abortion is not expected to be a major issue.

Wicker and the state’s other U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith are not up for re-election this year. The three House incumbents — Michael Guest of the 3rd, Trent of the 1st and Thompson of the 2nd — are all heavy favorites and it is doubtful that their position on abortion will change those odds much.

In the 4th District, Republican Mike Ezell, who defeated incumbent Steven Palazzo in the Republican primary, is also anti-abortion.

The question is will Republicans vote on a national ban on the combustible issue if they capture the House and Senate this November.

Thus far, their position has been fluid.

This article first on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Local activists push back on proposed plans to privatize city water system


‘What’s next, the air?’ Local activists push back on proposed plans to privatize city water system

At the southwest entrance to the Metrocenter Mall on Saturday, Sept. 3 –  the sixth day of Jackson’s current water crisis – shards of glass cluttered the sidewalk where doors used to be. Inside, a city worker drove a green forklift which left tracks on the marble floor and beige carpet as he reorganized hundreds of pallets of donated water one by one. 

This abandoned mall, where the primary tenants are and water department, has in recent weeks become the nexus of a city-wide water distribution effort called the Rapid Response Coalition, a partnership between the City of Jackson and volunteers with 30-plus advocacy organizations.

Water donated from across the country is brought here in 18-wheelers and then distributed early each morning to six coalition- sites in neighborhoods in south and west Jackson, predominantly Black and poorer parts of the city more affected by the water crisis. 

Danyelle Holmes, a member of the Poor People’s Campaign, has spent nearly every day outside at the mall, helping to manage the massive distribution effort that the coalition estimates has put more than an 1.2 million bottles of water into the hands of Jacksonians for free. 

She said the goal is to help the city with its distribution effort and to fill gaps in the ’s response. 

“We’ve seen a lack of response from our government – our state government leadership, and so we decided two years ago when the pandemic hit that we weren’t going to wait on anyone to come and save us,” Holmes said. “So it’s our goal and it’s our mission to save ourselves.” 

READ MOREMississippi Today’s complete coverage of the Jackson water crisis

Two and a half weeks into the current water crisis, the coalition has scaled back operations as the city and state have restored the water pressure at the O.B. Curtis Water Plant and turned attention to addressing the boil water notice. This week, only two coalition sites – Westland Plaza and Oak Forest Community Center – are still open daily, with the rest operating just two days a week. Volunteers are prioritizing home delivery, Holmes said. 

Now, the coalition is shifting focus to drawing up demands – tentatively scheduled to be released this week – for a long-term solution to the water crisis. They hope to pressure state leaders to enact solutions they view as more equitable.

There are currently a handful of proposals on the table to fix Jackson’s water system, but every option reportedly entails Jackson ceding some control of its water system to an outside party, be it a state entity or commission, a regional authority, or a private company. 

To many activists, the state and to some extent the federal government bear responsibility for the water crisis, not the city. Any move that infringes on Jackson’s control of its water system seems to suggest the city is responsible for the crisis – a notion they attribute to racism. They emphasize that the water crisis would not have happened without white lawmakers withholding state funding. 

“We’ve only had Black leaders for the last two or three terms, so how can you blame this divestment on the fact that we have Black leadership?” asked Lorena Quiroz, the executive director of the Immigrant Alliance for Justice and Equity.

One proposal in particular – privatization – has been widely condemned by activists. State leaders have suggested that the city could lease its water system to a private company that would manage operations. The second week of the crisis, Lumumba said the city had been in talks to contract out operations and management.

When some Jacksonians hear the word “privatization,” though, they picture a for-profit company outright purchasing the water system.

Private water systems come at an increased cost to customers, though research has shown they are less likely to violate federal clean drinking-water laws than public utilities. 

Private water systems can also be less accountable to the public, which some activists said could be problematic at a time when trust needs to be restored in the system. 

“The thing with privatization is they control what they think is best for us,” said Imani Olugbala, a member of Cooperation Jackson. “If it’s government-led, we have some oversight. If it’s exclusively for profit, we have to pay the price for water, and it’s going to be whatever they say, because that’s the capitalist construction. What’s next, the air?”

Many also noted it’s ironic that state leaders who ignored Jackson’s water crisis get to decide the response. 

“I would’ve liked to see swifter movement on the state-level because it seemed like it was weeks before we heard anything from Gov. Reeves,” said Blaise Adams, a pre-law student at Tougaloo College who was passing out water at IAJE’s pick-up site. “Maybe it wouldn’t have been so bad if it had been proactively worked on.” 

Quiroz questioned if Jackson’s water system can ever be truly fixed in a stratified, capitalist economy. 

“Water should be free. We shouldn’t have to pay for water,” she said. “That should be something that’s provided by the fucking state.” 

The work of distributing free water might not sound radical during a crisis, but to Holmes and other members of the Rapid Response Coalition, it is a model for how another, better society could function. 

Since the water emergency started, members of the coalition have held an 8 a.m. Zoom call to discuss plans for the day. They decide collectively how to spread out their resources – how much water should be allocated to each of the six pick-up sites based on the amount distributed the day before and who should respond to emergency calls the city’s 311 line receives from Jacksonians who need water.

The approach to activism is known as “mutual aid,” in which people in a community provide resources that the government failed to in a way that aims to not recreate systematic disparities. A term coined by a famous anarchist, mutual aid also aims to create social change by harnessing the collective work to achieve a political end. 

“We create our own system while at the same time pushing to change the current systems that fail people,” said Lea Campbell, the founding president of the climate-justice organization Mississippi Rising Coalition at IAJE’s site on the corner of Fortification and N West Street.

That Saturday morning – the same day Holmes was at the Metrocenter Mall – about 17 volunteers stood between cases of bottled water on the sidewalk. An occasional hitch like the backdoor of a Honda minivan closing slowly held up the line.

Some members donned red to show they were members of the local Democratic Socialist of America chapter; others, college students from Tougaloo and Oxford, wore shirts that said “DO GOOD” and “To understand the world, you must first understand a place like Mississippi.” 

“We got everybody in the house,” Quiroz said. She supervised the line with the attitude of a school teacher (she used to be one) overseeing car pick-up, inviting passersby who stopped to get some water to park their cars and volunteer. 

It’s important for organizations like IAJE to step up during disasters, Quiroz said, because many people can’t afford pricey and personal solutions like buying their own water or installing filtration systems. 

“It’s like the decision,” she said. “Folks that have the money can have access to as , they just have to get in their car and drive.” 

It can be scrappy work. At the Metrocenter Mall, the coalition’s base of operations was right next to a distribution site run by the . Stocked with non-potable water, porta-potties, military-style forklifts and dozens of uniformed National Guardsmen, ’s site looked very different from the coalition’s. 

“The National Guard has far more money than we do, the state has far more resources, so we can’t begin to compete,” Holmes said. “That’s comparing apples to oranges.” 

As Holmes talked with Mississippi Today, about a dozen volunteers sat on empty wooden pallets, waiting for the workers inside the mall to finish unloading an 18-wheeler of water. At one point, a city water department employee tried to drive a forklift even though she had no experience. 

Kadin Love, an organizer with Black Youth Project 100, said he thinks the solution to the crisis is better state and local representation for Black that will only be achieved if activists from across the country invest time and money in the state at a level that hasn’t been seen since Freedom Summer. 

“Money isn’t poured down here, folks don’t come down here to help us organize,” he said. “We’ve had to address our own issues systematically since basically 1964.” 

His experience this past year watching national go ignored as it unfolded in Jackson has not exactly left him feeling optimistic. 

“Mississippi was the epicenter of the fight for abortion, but we didn’t see millions of people down here organizing,” he said. “In Jackson, at some of our largest protests we max out at maybe 200, 300 people.” 

“Why didn’t we have any support beforehand?” he continued. “Why are we the last line of defense?” 

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Doctors, advocates worry rape victims won’t have abortion access


Can rape victims access abortion in Mississippi? Doctors, advocates say no.

Mississippi law theoretically allows rape victims access to , an exemption state leaders tout. But the doctors and advocates who work with victims say in reality, that access is almost nonexistent.

Since the U.S. Supreme Court overruled Roe v. Wade, allowing Mississippi’s 2007 trigger ban to take effect in July, abortion has been legal in the state in only two cases: when necessary to save the life of the mother and when a pregnancy resulted from a rape that has been reported to law enforcement. 

“It does in fact have an exception for rape and it has an exception for life of the mother,” Gov. Tate Reeves said in a television appearance earlier this year. “I think that there’s no doubt that there are instances, there are individuals that certainly push for exceptions, and that’s okay.”

But doctors told Mississippi Today that they’re not aware of anyone in the state who will provide the procedure for rape victims because of concerns about potential legal consequences and logistical hurdles. 

Mississippi Today surveyed more than 20 hospitals and hospital chains in the state about whether they would provide legal abortions to people who have reported a rape to law enforcement. Some of the state’s biggest hospitals – including the University of Mississippi Medical Center and North Mississippi Health Services – refused to comment at all. 

Of those that responded, none said that its doctors would provide abortions for people who had reported a rape to law enforcement.

“I don’t think people in Mississippi can have comfort around, ‘Oh, if I’m raped, I will have access,’” one Jackson-area OB/GYN told Mississippi Today, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the physician did not have permission from their employer to talk to the media. “You probably won’t. You’ll have to find someone to do it that includes a hospital with the whole team there supporting that, and that’s much more difficult.”

A medical professional could face up to 10 years in prison if convicted of providing an illegal abortion. Because for years all of the state’s elective abortions – which includes all procedures that are not medically necessary – took place at Mississippi’s sole abortion clinic, many OB/GYNs around the state lack the training to perform the procedure. 

That means victims of sexual violence will likely be forced to travel hours away from home to end a pregnancy that resulted from rape. 

Reeves’ office did not respond to a request for comment for the story. 

Before Mississippi’s trigger ban took effect, the state’s sole abortion clinic, the , provided abortions for rape victims. The clinic is now closed.

Diane Derzis, the clinic’s owner, said most of the time clinic staff did not know when they were serving a patient who had been raped. But a few times a year, law enforcement came to the clinic to pick up fetal remains, which could be used to gather DNA evidence to identify an assailant.

Derzis said she doesn’t believe anyone in Mississippi will provide abortions for people who have reported a rape.

“They’re screwed,” she said of rape victims. “Plain and simple. No one is going to take the responsibility or the liability … People are scared to death, not just there but all over the country about what they can and can’t do. And they’re just not going to be willing to put themselves or their licenses on the line.”

Even before Dobbs, Mississippi doctors were wary of providing abortions. The Pink House exclusively employed out-of-state OB/GYNs who flew in monthly for a few days at a time. 

Anti-abortion activists protested at the homes of Mississippi-based abortion providers. 

“We go to the neighborhoods and tell everybody in the neighborhood what they do,” long-time anti-abortion activist David Lane told Mississippi Today in June. “They don’t like that. But if it’ll get rid of them, and it’s legal, we’ll do it.”

It’s unlikely that any Mississippi doctors who do provide legal abortions will talk publicly about it – both for fear of legal action and to avoid attracting anti-abortion activists. 

Rob McDuff, an attorney at the , which represented the clinic before it closed this summer, said he does not expect to see prosecutions of medical providers for performing abortions under the law’s exceptions. 

“I fully expect that state officials will allow professionals to use their best judgment in the difficult situations they will encounter, and I don’t think those doctors and nurses will be prosecuted,” he said. “If any are, we stand ready to defend them without charge, just as we will defend any others who are arrested for abortion-related crimes.”

Mississippi is one of a handful of states that bans abortion but has an exception for rape. There is no exception for incest. 

Michele Goodwin, a law professor at the University of California, Irvine and an expert in reproductive rights, said that exceptions for rape and incest can serve a political purpose without actually ensuring victims have access to abortion.

“Lawmakers get to satisfy part of their base that is skeptical about their anti-abortion lawmaking, or they get to say, ‘We put into the law these exceptions,’ hoping that people won’t pay close attention,” Goodwin said. “But if you unpack what that looks like, those burdens are inordinate.”

Now that the Pink House is closed, ’ nearest options for a legal abortion are in Florida, where it is permitted up to 15 weeks of pregnancy, or southern Illinois, where the town of Carbondale has become an access point for people living in ban states across the South and Midwest. 

When lawmakers added an exception for rape to Mississippi’s pre-Roe abortion ban in 1966, they considered requiring a local judge to first certify that a rape had taken place. But they rejected that idea on the grounds that it embarrasses victims.

The exception now requires victims to file “a formal charge of rape … with an appropriate law enforcement official.”

Forensic nurses told Mississippi Today that they’re also concerned about leaving their patients’ ability to access a medical procedure in the hands of law enforcement.

Nationally, only about a third of sexual assaults are reported to . And only about a sixth of those reports result in arrests. 

In the vast majority of rape cases, the victim knew the assailant, so filing a police report could have life-altering consequences. 

Fear of retaliation, the belief that police won’t help them, and considering the assault a personal matter are among the reasons people choose not to report, according to Department of Justice statistics.

Chance Lovern, a nurse at the Ochsner Rush emergency room in Meridian, said his experience aligns with the national data: Most of the patients he has worked with knew their attacker. 

The sexual assault exams he performs are careful and detail oriented. Patients stand on a sheet to change so any physical evidence can be collected. Nurses document physical injuries like bruises and fractures, and perform vaginal and anal swabs for DNA. At every stage, a patient can ask to stop or skip part of the exam. 

He asks victims if they have contacted the police, but he never urges them to do so.  

“It’s a traumatizing event already,” he said. “It’s going to be their decision in the long if they want to.”

Alizbeth Eaves, one of the state’s few certified sexual assault nurse examiners (SANE) and the trauma and SANE program manager at Ochsner Rush in Meridian, said the language of the rape exception is also unclear. What constitutes “a formal charge?” Is it simply filing a police report, or does someone have to be charged with the ?

She recently saw a 16-year-old who had been raped by her uncle starting when she was 14 years old. The teenager’s father caught his brother in the act and called the police. But when they arrived, they initially refused to arrest the uncle.

“The investigator says, ‘She’s 16, it’s consensual, there’s nothing we can do,’” Eaves said. 

Eventually, the uncle was arrested on two counts of statutory rape, stemming from previous incidents. But it was easy to imagine the case taking a different turn.

“If she had gotten pregnant from that sexual assault that day, and law enforcement refused to press charges because, quote, ‘She was 16 and [it was] consensual,’ she would have been forced to carry that pregnancy, because a formal rape charge would not have been filed because law enforcement wasn’t going to do that,” Eaves said. 

A Mississippi forensic nurse who spoke on the condition of anonymity also said she routinely sees police demonstrate skepticism and even hostility toward victims. She has heard officers ask victims whether they actually wanted to have sex with their assailants and suggest that they should not have been alone with them. 

After the Supreme Court overturned and Mississippi’s trigger ban took effect, Stephanie Piper, sexual assault program manager at the nonprofit Gulf Coast Center for Nonviolence, helped a woman who had become pregnant after unwanted sex get an appointment for an abortion in Florida. Instead of a six-hour round trip drive to Jackson, she had a 10-hour round trip to Tallahassee. 

Stephanie Piper is the sexual assault program manager at the nonprofit Gulf Coast Center for Nonviolence, serving victims of sexual violence on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

In that case, the woman knew the man who impregnated her and had previously had consensual sex with him. She had no interest in filing a police report. 

“She was scared if she didn’t have sex with him something worse was going to happen,” Piper said. “In my eyes that’s a sexual assault. If she came forward to law enforcement and said everything I just said, they’re probably not going to go forward with the case.”

Lovern, a native of Philadelphia, Miss., grew up in the Pentecostal church, surrounded by opposition to abortion. His work as a nurse has changed his perspective, introducing him to situations where abortion was medically necessary. And he can see how carrying a pregnancy to term could change a sexual assault victim’s life forever. 

“I’m not saying that they wouldn’t love their child any differently, but it’s always going to bring back a physical presence of that assault,” he said. 

This article first on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

AG’s office ignores forensic nurses’ questions about Plan B


Sexual assault nurses asked the AG’s office if Plan B is legal. They never got a response.

Mississippi nurses who take care of sexual assault victims are worried that the ’s ban could force them to stop offering emergency contraception – and they’re not getting any answers from the state’s chief legal officer. 

Months ago, following the Dobbs ruling that allowed an abortion ban to take effect in Mississippi, a group of forensic nurses reached out to Lynn Fitch’s office for guidance. 

Michelle Williams, Fitch’s chief of staff, never answered their questions about abortion laws – including whether emergency contraception was legal.

When pressed by Mississippi Today, Williams said, “You can look at the law. You can decide whether or not it’s legal. But it is.”

Williams said she had responded to the first part of the email that asked about a project to update the state’s rape kits, which she considered “most relevant,” and then thought the conversation was finished. 

The lack of response left the group of sexual assault nurse examiners concerned about potential legal consequences but determined to keep serving their patients. 

“I’m going to continue to provide the emergency contraception as long as we have it available and give the education and resources that I always have,” said Alizbeth Eaves, one of the state’s few certified sexual assault nurse examiners and the trauma and SANE program manager at Ochsner Rush in Meridian. “But I am afraid that I’m going to be told, ‘That was against the law, and you’re in big trouble for it.’”

Through a records request, Mississippi Today obtained an email sent on July 18 by Shalotta Sharp, special projects coordinator at the Mississippi Coalition Against Sexual Assault, listing legal questions forensic nurses have about how the state’s new ban on abortion could affect their work.

Sharp, who has decades of experience as a certified sexual assault nurse examiner and is a long-time leader in the field in Mississippi, asked if emergency contraception is now outlawed. She also wanted clarification as to as whether medical professionals can refer a patient to an abortion provider in another state. 

Alizbeth Eaves, one of Mississippi’s few certified sexual assault nurse examiners, is the trauma and SANE program manager at Ochsner Rush in Meridian.

“We are very thankful for any guidance and direction,” she concluded. “Thank you for your guidance and help!”

Williams responded that same day. She said she was on vacation but had proposed changes to victims compensation rules to review and should get back to Sharp soon. She did not acknowledge the other questions about the abortion law. 

Sharp never heard from Williams after that. She had reached out to the attorney general’s office, she said, because the chief law enforcement officer is responsible for providing clarity about what the law actually requires. 

“We certainly don’t want to be doing anything illegal,” she said. “But we also want what’s best for our patients.”

Mississippi Today told Sharp that Williams said emergency contraception is legal.

“If they’re saying that emergency contraception is not considered abortive, and it’s legal, literally that’s all I want to hear,” she said. 

Under the updated rape kit the Attorney General’s Office produced in collaboration with the Mississippi chapter of the International Association of Forensic Nurses this year, the state continues to reimburse medical providers for “medication treatment for prevention of… pregnancy” for victims of sexual assault, regardless of whether the victim reports to law enforcement. 

Only government entities, like counties, legislators and state agencies, can request official opinions from the attorney general, so Sharp’s email did not constitute a formal opinion request. Williams said the office can’t provide opinions outside that channel and that guidance for medical professionals comes from “any number of boards in the state.”

“We’ve been kind of left on read so to speak,” Eaves said. “It’s very frustrating that you’re going to have a trigger law in place and activate that trigger law without giving clear definitions and guidelines.”

Emergency contraception is recognized as part of the standard of care for victims of sexual assault by organizations like the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. A copper intrauterine device is the most effective form and is about 99.9% successful at preventing pregnancy if placed within 120 hours of intercourse. Pills like ella and Plan B are also used in Mississippi hospitals. 

Emergency contraception does not end a pregnancy– generally, it stops ovulation so an egg cannot be fertilized. But sometimes, the treatment can function by stopping a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus. 

“Where are we calling conception at?” Eaves said. “Because if we’re talking about when the sperm meets the egg, that could potentially take emergency contraception away.”

Some pro-life organizations consider the medication a form of abortion. The advocacy group Pro-Life Mississippi lists “Morning After Pill” on its website under “Types of Abortion.”

Attorneys general in other states have been willing to publicly clarify that emergency contraception is legal. In Missouri, a spokesperson for the office said state law — which bans abortion except in medical emergencies — did not prohibit Plan B after a local hospital said it would stop providing the medication because the “law is ambiguous.”

Mississippi’s ban on abortion specifies that abortion ends “the pregnancy of a woman known to be pregnant.” During the period when emergency contraception is effective, pregnancy tests do not yet detect pregnancy

Registered nurses practices during a sexual assault examination a training for nurses at St. Dominic in Jackson, Wednesday, April 10, 2019.

Forensic nurses interviewed by Mississippi Today said they are still providing emergency contraception to victims of sexual assault. 

“We’re just prescribing it left and right,” said one nurse, who asked that her name not be used because she did not have permission from her employer to talk to the media.

But she’s worried about the future. 

“That in itself is scary, that they (the Attorney General’s office) won’t just commit to saying, ‘Emergency contraception is okay,’” she said.

Eaves said the stakes of providing emergency contraception now feel higher than ever. If someone becomes pregnant following a rape, she is legally allowed to get an abortion in Mississippi only if “a formal charge of rape has been filed with an appropriate law enforcement official.”

That requirement makes Mississippi’s post-Dobbs abortion ban more restrictive than at almost any point in state history. When lawmakers added an exception to the state’s 1952 abortion ban for rape in 1966, they considered requiring a local chancery judge to first determine that a rape had occurred. But they rejected this idea because it would “require making the case a matter of public record and cause embarrassment to a wronged woman.” 

Now, state leaders appear to have no such concerns. 

Read the forensic nurses’ letter to the Attorney General’s Office:

This article first on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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