Governor Reeves

Governor Reeves announces mobile enforcement results

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www.wxxv25.com – Rick Gogreve – 2022-09-21 17:28:33

Governor Tate Reeves came down to to announce the results of the mobile enforcement team deployment that took place on Mississippi’s Gulf Coast.

Since the mobile enforcement team arrived along the Coast, it netted 170 arrests and resulted in 152 felony charges and 111 misdemeanor charges.

Of those arrests were two human traffickers. One trafficker was a United States citizen while the other was an illegal alien.

Additionally, several narcotics and items were seized during the deployment including 5,574 dosage units of fentanyl, 3.5 ounces of heroine, 16 grams…

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Defendant: Tate Reeves should be target of welfare lawsuit

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Defendant: Gov. Tate Reeves should be target of welfare lawsuit — not in charge of it

A defendant in Mississippi’s civil to recoup millions in misspent welfare money is asking the court to examine whether Gov. Tate Reeves is controlling the case to protect himself and his supporters.

After Mississippi Today uncovered text messages Friday that connect the current governor to the funding of a defendant in the case, attorney Jim Waide argued Monday that Reeves should be a target of the lawsuit — not in charge of it.

The texts show former welfare director John Davis, who is facing criminal charges in the welfare scandal, said he was fulfilling then-Lt. Gov. Reeves’ wishes when he funneled over $1 million to Reeves’ fitness trainer, a defendant in the suit.

READ MORE: Gov. Tate Reeves inspired welfare payment targeted in civil suit, texts show

The Reeves administration also recently fired the attorney bringing the welfare suit, former U.S. Attorney Brad Pigott, after the attorney attempted to subpoena the University of Southern Mississippi Athletic Foundation for its communication with, among others, former Gov. Phil Bryant. Bryant oversaw the welfare department when the scandal occurred.

Reeves’ staff had already forced Pigott to remove the athletic foundation, whose board is made up of many Reeves supporters and campaign donors, from the suit before he filed it.

“It is an abuse of power for to frustrate a state agency’s collecting monies owed it in order to protect his financial supporters,” wrote Waide, the Tupelo-based attorney representing Davis’ nephew Austin Smith, who received hundreds of thousands of dollars from the agency during his uncle’s administration. “It is an abuse of power for Governor Reeves to direct litigation in which he is a necessary party defendant.”

The suit targets 38 individuals or companies, including former NFL quarterback Brett Favre and three retired WWE wrestlers, in an attempt to claw back about $24 million in misspent funds from a federal block grant called Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF, which is supposed to serve the state’s poorest residents. The suit is based on a forensic audit that found $77 million worth of fraud or misspending. There are separate criminal cases against six defendants, four of whom have pleaded guilty and agreed to aid prosecutors in the ongoing state and federal criminal investigations. 

Mississippi Today’s investigation “The Backchannel” provides evidence of former Gov. Bryant’s involvement in the scandal and one of the defendants in both the civil and criminal cases, nonprofit founder Nancy New, alleged that Bryant directed her to pay Favre. State and federal authorities reached their plea deal with New days after Mississippi Today’s series finished publishing in April.

Pigott, who had been on the civil case for a year and filed the suit in May, told Mississippi Today he believed his firing was political. Reeves confirmed as much, saying he believed Pigott, a semi-retired former President Bill Clinton appointee, was the one with a political agenda

Mississippi Department of Human Services, the agency bringing the lawsuit, is prepared to hire Jackson-based law firm Jones Walker to replace Pigott on the case. The State Personnel Board is expected to review the contract, which the must also approve, at its Aug. 18 meeting. MDHS has not released the contract or its dollar amount.

“MDHS worked quickly to identify a firm that would continue the important civil litigation,” reads a statement from the agency.

In a motion opposing Pigott’s withdrawal, Waide argues that Reeves has an interest in protecting members of the University of Southern Mississippi Athletic Foundation, which is curiously absent from the suit despite receiving $5 million in welfare funds to build a volleyball stadium on campus on behalf of Favre – an alleged violation of federal regulations, at the least. Mississippi Today reported that several members of the foundation’s board are Reeves campaign donors.

Citing a recent Mississippi Today article, Waide also asserts that Reeves “also has a financial interest in this case because he played a substantial role in obtaining welfare funds (TANF funds) for Defendant Paul Victor Lacoste.”

Waide’s filing Monday asks for a hearing to determine:

  • Whether Reeves unlawfully caused Pigott’s firing because Pigott was gathering evidence against Reeves supporters
  • Whether Reeves caused the allegedly illegal payments to Lacoste, and should therefore be added as a defendant to the suit
  • Whether Reeves is trying to steer the department to hire a new firm that will protect his supporters and focus on lower-level figures
  • Whether the court should intervene to prevent Reeves from controlling the case
  • Whether the state should be forced to hire a new firm on a contingency basis only to prevent any more use of taxpayer money on the case

Waide, who filed a similar motion in July arguing that Bryant should be a defendant in the suit based on Mississippi Today’s reporting, also said in his most recent filing that most of the current defendants do not have the assets necessary for the state to successfully recoup damages.

But the civil suit also serves the purpose of finding answers for the public, especially since there have been no criminal trials more than two years after the initial arrests.

Pigott had set several dates in the following weeks for depositions in the civil case, but the state has since canceled those. Meanwhile, Davis has filed a motion to stay, which is pending and will determine if the case will be postponed until after the criminal cases conclude. 

Waide also filed on Monday a separate objection to Davis’ motion to stay, arguing that any delay is not in the public interest.

“A stay will delay and frustrate discovery so as to cause all necessary defendants not to be joined, including both former Governor Bryant and Governor Reeves,” Waide wrote.

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

Records show Reeves staff did sparse analysis to draft post-Roe agenda

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Records show Reeves staff did sparse analysis to draft post-Roe agenda

In preparing for the next phase of the “pro-life agenda” following the fall of , Gov. Tate Reeves boasted publicly that his staff conducted a thorough review of Mississippi law to find ways to improve the current environment for people expecting to give birth.

But there’s no written record of this analysis, according to documents Mississippi Today obtained through a public records request.

Instead, records show the administration briefly consulted with four people by email — two anti- advocates of Choose Life MS, a pediatrician and a local judge — and gathered template legislation written by Washington-based Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, one of the most powerful anti-abortion lobbying groups in the nation.

A Reeves spokesperson said the “thorough analysis” the governor has discussed publicly was a verbal briefing, not a written document, which is why the office didn’t produce more to the organization.

Last January, Reeves’ policy advisor Kristen Windham wrote an email to Janet Thomas, director of Choose Life MS, saying, “I enjoyed our meeting last week and appreciate the willingness to help develop a plan going forward.”

Choose Life MS, led by its president and longtime anti-abortion lobbyist Terri Herring, is a private advocacy nonprofit that collects and disburses funding to crisis pregnancy centers — organizations known for persuading pregnant women against abortion. The Legislature has given Herring’s organization power over which pregnancy centers will be able to receive newly created tax credits by including in statute that the credits will be reserved for nonprofits that are eligible under Choose Life MS’s grant program.

Windham also corresponded with Hattiesburg pediatrician Anita Henderson, president of the Mississippi Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, who had a different take on what a “pro-life agenda” would look like. Henderson recommended the state extend postpartum coverage from 60 days to a year — a proposal with bipartisan support that Republican House Speaker Philip Gunn killed in 2022.

“Not sure if he (Reeves) would be interested in meeting with her,” Windham wrote in an email, forwarding Henderson’s recommendation to another Reeves staffer.

Reeves has yet to meet with the pediatrician, Henderson told Mississippi Today. Plus, Henderson reached out to the governor’s office, not the other way around.

“Postpartum care is low-hanging fruit,” Henderson said. “It is a really easy option to show moms and babies that they’re supported.”

Henderson noted that after making abortion illegal, Mississippi could see an additional 3,500 babies born per year, and with a preterm birth rate of 14%, that could translate to 500 more babies in neonatal intensive care. Additionally, the number of children in Mississippi Department of Child Protection Services custody could likewise increase.

In recent State of the State addresses, Reeves promised to take action to “make Mississippi the safest and most supportive state in the country for mothers,” and “make it even easier to adopt … to ensure that these children are not twice-abandoned.” He asked his staff to work on a plan to accomplish this.

As a result of their efforts, the governor’s office has drafted a policy agenda which centers on directing an unspecified amount of public funding to crisis pregnancy centers, reforming the state’s youth court system and offering new cash incentives to adoptive parents.

The plan does not address extending postpartum Medicaid coverage — a policy supported by several advocacy groups and many Republican lawmakers — or providing direct assistance to low-income expectant mothers.

“One issue that needs constant attention, however, is the resources available to children of parents facing long-term incarceration or even those who are on probation but struggling to provide the care and attention needed,” Judge Toni Terrett, a circuit court judge in the western region of the state, told a Reeves staffer by email in January. “The answer may not always be adoption in those situations, but these children may need special attention to make sure they are not lost in the shuffle.”

Terrett told Mississippi Today that since offering her initial advice, she has not had any more conversations with the office.

In recent years, Mississippi has led the nation in reducing its notoriously backlogged CPS caseload, while promising to unify families instead of separating them. But at the same time, the state has failed to pull down available federal funding to help families in poverty care for their children through prevention services, while welfare officials misspent millions that could have been used for this purpose. Experts say an emphasis on incentivizing adoption and increasing CPS intervention could reverse the state’s progress and perpetuate trauma.

“I’m all for it. Give as much financial assistance as you possibly can. But if you’re stopping at wanting to give it to everyone but the biological family, then you have a flaw in your logic,” said attorney Kimberly Russell, who previously led child welfare efforts under the Children’s Advocacy Centers of Mississippi and the .

Also absent from the governor’s agenda are any plans to improve access to education for young women and mothers, though Reeves recently said in an interview that providing educational opportunities would be “the best thing we can do for them.”

The three-page Reeves administration policy agenda, drafted before the decision and titled “Possible actions ahead of life-favoring Supreme Court ruling in the Dobbs case,” proposes six measures. It is published here for the first time:

  • Enact Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America’s “Support for Mothers and Babies Act”: Create a competitive grant for crisis pregnancy centers, which includes reporting requirements and auditing procedures
  • Statewide judicial reform: Create a uniform, state-funded youth court and more rapid pathways for permanent placement; provide state funding for parent representatives; allow county prosecutors to terminate parental rights
  • Increased adoption incentives: Create a multi-year grant award for parents who adopt children in CPS custody – $20,000 over four years, for example.
  • Extended “Safe Haven” law: Increase the amount of time a mother is allowed to relinquish her child after birth, which Reeves’ agenda says is currently 72 hours (though state law actually says 7 days); the agenda doesn’t advocate for extending to a specific time period, but cites other states that allow up to seven days, 30 days, or even as long as a year.
  • Roundtable discussions: Gather representatives from CPS, centers for pregnancy choices, pregnancy help organizations, adoption agencies, hospitals, clinics and Medicaid to communicate “about the overall process.”
  • Address current CPS case backlog: Fund special youth court judges, prosecutors and caseworkers to reduce adoption and custody cases.

Reeves has touted a bill he signed this year, the Pregnancy Resource Act, which provides $3.5 million in tax credits to donors of eligible pregnancy resource centers and crisis pregnancy centers. Centers must meet requirements under Choose Life MS’s grant program to qualify.

Getty Israel, founder of community health clinic Sisters in Birth, which is in the process of opening a birthing center, said she met a dead end when trying to secure eligibility from Choose Life MS.

“You gotta get the blessing of the Mississippi pro-life people,” Israel said. “… You gotta be a part of this clique, this political clique, this so-called pro-life clique or anti-abortion clique, in order to take advantage of that tax credit. That sounds very, very much like discrimination to me.” 

In the past, Israel turned down a small donation from Choose Life MS because she said the process was too invasive – requiring her to add its logo to her website, for example.

Israel also met last year with Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America organizers, who represented that they were eager to provide services for pregnant women and asked her for a “wish list” of policies she’d like to see. Israel sent the list, but she said nothing ever came of it. 

This wasn’t a surprise to Israel, who said the Legislature has consistently turned down resources for the tangible services her organization provides.

“They (Republican leadership) are just not serious about improving health outcomes among women who are gonna become pregnant and making sure those babies are born full term, but with all their limbs and healthy, and that they can thrive. They just want babies to be born. That’s a political check,” Israel said. “I have never been able to get Tate Reeves’ office to even allow me to meet with him or anyone there. I’ve been trying for years.” 

As part of its work with the governor’s office, Choose Life MS also conducted a survey of 14 pregnancy help organizations to gauge their needs and shared the results. Some of the needs the centers identified included increased shelter capacity, transportation, fatherhood programs, mental health services, websites, mobile units, a washer and dryer and sonogram services.

Henderson said transportation and assistance in applying to Medicaid are two needs that pregnancy centers could consider meeting.

“Over half of the counties in Mississippi do not have an OBGYN. So moms are traveling significant distances to see their doctor, which costs gas money, time, and loss of work. Those are reasons that many moms delay care or miss GYN visits,” she said. “The other thing I see … moms who find out that they are pregnant, when they apply for Medicaid, it can take a month for their Medicaid application to go through for them to learn that they are eligible. So that is a month lost, in terms of prenatal care, prenatal vitamins, testing and treatment.”

Currently, Choose Life MS collects revenue from the sale of specialty car tags and distributes the funding to about 40 of these organizations – which are noticeably sparse in the Delta and southwest Mississippi, areas with higher Black populations. If the tax credits were evenly distributed, each center would benefit from $87,500 in tax exempt donations.

In 2016, Choose Life MS said it had exceeded $3 million in revenue from the car tags since 2002 and that number is now $3.5 million, according to its website. The nonprofit’s annual revenue, according to its 990 forms, is around just under $150,000 a year and has been on the decline.

In some states, governors have chosen to use funds from the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, or welfare, to subsidize pregnancy centers. With its proposed legislation, Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America aims to get more direct legislative appropriations to these organizations so they don’t rely on political whims from year to year.

“I have watched over the years, and it’s certainly not perfect by any stretch, but since 1973, since Roe, the social services delivery system, the smorgasbord of services available to families and children has grown tremendously,” said Susan Liebel, director of state affairs for Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America. “… The trick is to get, of course, the right services in the right places with the right people who need them in the time that they need them. That’s the trick.”

But some public health professionals, like Israel, are skeptical about the mission and capacity of the existing centers.

“I made it very clear that I wasn’t impressed with what the pregnancy resource centers were doing, simply discouraging women to have an abortion and not helping pregnant women,” Israel said of her conversations with Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America. “They (crisis pregnancy centers) are not willing to refer their clients to me and I’m offering all these services and I’m right here in the city of Jackson. And this is my area of expertise. But they won’t refer patients to me because I don’t agree with their religious and political agenda.”

Herring, who has direct lines with Reeves’ office on crafting future plans, did not respond to Mississippi Today’s requests for an interview for this story.

Herring, a failed Gov. Phil Bryant nominee to the Mississippi State Health Department board and part of the “pro-life coalition” Reeves announced in 2019, appears to be a darling of Republican leadership.

In 2019, after the Senate passed another restrictive abortion ban under his leadership, Reeves called Herring out by name, tweeting, “Thank you to @Terri_Herring and other pro-life Mississippians who worked and prayed for this. Your work will save lives.”

See the entirety of the governor’s office response to Mississippi Today’s public records request below.

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

Supreme Court could assure abortion ban in Mississippi, or people could vote

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Supreme Court could assure abortion ban in Mississippi, or people could vote

For to be banned in Mississippi, a 1998 Supreme Court ruling — that “abortion is protected” under the state Constitution — must be reversed.

The most obvious way for that reversal to occur is for the same , but with different judges than in 1998, to write a new decision saying abortion is not a protected right under the state Constitution.

The state Supreme Court most likely will have a chance to make that reversal thanks to a filed claiming a Mississippi trigger law banning most abortions upon the repeal of cannot go into effect because of the 1998 state Supreme Court ruling. A very conservative Supreme Court can simply reverse that 1998 decision and the trigger law can go into effect banning most abortions in the state.

But another way to reverse that 1998 decision is to let the people vote.

Gov. Tate Reeves could call a special session of the Mississippi Legislature for the purpose of passing a constitutional resolution. That resolution — presumably to ban abortion or most abortions in Mississippi — would then go before the voters. If the voters approved it, presto — abortion would be banned.

The election could take place on Nov. 8 — the date of the already scheduled general election. But if legislators wanted, they could schedule a special election earlier to vote on the constitutional amendment to ban abortions. In the past, legislators have scheduled votes on constitutional amendments for dates other than the date of the regularly scheduled general election.

Until the 1998 Pro-Choice is overturned either by a new Supreme Court ruling or by the vote of the people, it is difficult to see a path for the trigger law to take effect in the state. It is the same principle that applied nationally in the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision — abortion could not be banned until the wrote a new decision reversing the Roe decision that said abortion rights were protected by the federal Constitution.

The U.S. Supreme Court, of course, reversed Roe in late June in a Mississippi case, Dobbs v. . But the U.S. Supreme Court in the Dobbs ruling did not and could not reverse what the state Supreme Court said in 1998 about the right to an abortion being found in the Mississippi Constitution.

“We find that the state constitutional right to privacy includes an implied right to choose whether or not to have an abortion,” the late Mississippi Supreme Court Justice Michael Sullivan wrote for the majority in 1998.

Sullivan further wrote that when the Mississippi Constitution was written in 1890, “abortion was legal until quickening (until fetus movement) some four to five months into pregnancy.”

There has been only one statewide vote involving abortion, which occurred in 2011 on what was known as the “personhood amendment.” The proposal would have defined as a person “every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning, or the equivalent thereof.”

The ballot initiative process, where sponsors gather signatures to place issues before voters, was used for the personhood amendment. It was soundly defeated 58% to 42% by voters even though most of the state’s politicians, including Phil Bryant who was elected governor that year, supported it. Had it passed, the proposal would have been placed in the state Constitution.

The personhood proposal might have gone steps further on banning abortions than most Mississippi voters wanted to go. Based on the personhood vote, even many conservative Mississippians favor exemptions from abortion bans for the life of the mother, for rape and for other reasons. But on the other hand, House Speaker Philip Gunn said recently he believes life begins at conception and did not appear to favor any exemptions.

Legislators could craft the constitutional ban as strict or with as many exceptions as they want and then let the people vote.

One of the primary arguments used for overturning Roe v. Wade was that courts should not decide the controversial issue.

Mississippi Solicitor General Scott Stewart, arguing before the U.S. Supreme Court for Lynn Fitch’s office in the landmark Dobbs case, said, “The Constitution places its trust in the people. On hard issue after hard issue, the people make this country work. Abortion is a hard issue. It demands the best from all of us, not a judgment by just a few of us. When an issue affects everyone — and when the Constitution does not take sides on it — it belongs to the people.”

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

Mississippi abortion law: an FAQ

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FAQ: Abortion in Mississippi post-Roe v. Wade

Mississippi Today has compiled a list of questions in regards to in Mississippi after the overturned last week, and Mississippi’s trigger law banning abortions is set to go into effect in less than 10 days.

We will continue to update this FAQ. Click below to view a specific question.

Jump to a question

What case did the Supreme Court rule on?

Dobbs v. centers around Mississippi legislation passed and signed in 2018 called “The Act to Prohibit Abortion After 15 Weeks.” That law and an even stricter law that would ban abortion after six weeks were both ruled unconstitutional twice in the last few years — by both a U.S. District Court and the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.

The U.S. Supreme Court in May 2021 decided it would take up Dobbs after meeting 13 times to consider it, a move many legal analysts called unprecedented. This marked the first time since the landmark 1973 abortion rights case Roe v. Wade that the U.S. Supreme Court has taken up a pre-viability ban — a law that prohibits access to abortion based on the amount of time pregnant before the fetus is viable, or around 24 weeks.

READ MORE: U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade

How did the court rule?

The U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the 1973 landmark case that established a person’s right to an abortion.

What were the arguments?

When the Supreme Court heard oral arguments for the Dobbs case on Dec. 1, 2021, Chief Justice John Roberts, viewed as the most moderate of the court’s conservative wing, appeared frustrated with what he suggested was a bait-and-switch strategy the state used to transform the case into a challenge to Roe and Casey. Roberts voiced his preference to stick to that narrower question on pre-viability bans, saying “the thing that is at issue before us today is 15 weeks.”

Justice Samuel Alito rejected that position, saying “the only real options we have” are to reaffirm Roe or to overrule it.

Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan wrote in their dissent that above all others, poor women who cannot afford to seek out an abortion in a state where it remains legal will be harmed by the Court’s ruling.

Yes, for now. Mississippi is one of 13 states with a trigger law, which Mississippi Lynn Fitch certified on Monday. That law, which bans abortion in all cases except where the mother’s life is in danger or a rape that’s been reported to law enforcement, would go into effect 10 days from Monday. But as Mississippi’s trigger law has been discussed in the state and nationwide, no one has taken into account the fact that a 1998 ruling by the declaring a right to an abortion is granted in the state Constitution.

Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the state’s sole abortion clinic, has filed a lawsuit in Hinds County Chancery Court arguing the trigger law is invalid because of the constitutional right to an abortion spelled out by the state Supreme Court in the 1998 decision.

READ MORE: 1998 state court ruling leads to lawsuit that could prolong Mississippi abortion fight

What is Mississippi’s trigger law and what does it mean for Mississippi?

The law permits abortions only when the mother’s life is at risk or when the pregnancy resulted from a rape that has been reported to law enforcement. The trigger law and fetal heartbeat ban apply to all forms of abortion, including medication abortions that the World Health Organization says can safely end a pregnancy up to 12 weeks.

READ MORE: Fitch certifies Mississippi’s trigger law banning abortion in nearly all cases

Are abortions still being performed in Mississippi?

Yes, but likely not for long. The trigger law takes effect 10 days after the attorney general issues a determination that Roe has been overturned. For the first time in 50 years, it will be nearly impossible to obtain a legal abortion in the state of Mississippi.

READ MORE: Mississippi abortion clinic plans to provide services as long as law allows

An all but forgotten 1998 ruling by the state Supreme Court declaring a right to an abortion is granted in the state Constitution could prolong the fight over abortion in Mississippi despite last week’s landmark decision overturning Roe v. Wade.

Jackson Women’s Health Organization has filed a lawsuit in Hinds County Chancery Court arguing the trigger law is invalid because of the constitutional right to an abortion spelled out by the state Supreme Court in the 1998 decision. Because all four Hinds County judges recused themselves from the case, the state Supreme Court will likely appoint a special judge to hear it.

Who typically gets abortions in Mississippi?

About 5,000 Mississippians had an abortion in 2020, according to the Mississippi Department of Health.

The rate of abortions in Mississippi was 4.3 abortions occurring in the state per 1,000 reproductive-age women in 2017– one of the lowest in the country. But the rate of Mississippians receiving abortions was 8.3 per 1,000 reproductive-age women, according to the Guttmacher Institute, indicating that many Mississippians have already been seeking abortions out of state. (The national rate was 11.4 per 1,000 reproductive-age women in 2019.)

READ MORE: Who gets abortions in Mississippi?

What will happen to Mississippi’s only abortion clinic?

Diane Derzis, the owner of Mississippi’s only abortion clinic, the facility at the center of the Dobbs case, has said it will close. She plans to open a new clinic in Las Cruces, New Mexico, about an hour from El Paso.

Are medication abortions — or abortion pills — legal in Mississippi?

The trigger law and fetal heartbeat ban apply to all forms of abortion, including medication abortions that the World Health Organization says can safely end a pregnancy up to 12 weeks.

But reproductive rights advocates and many legal experts say it will be nearly impossible to keep medication abortion out of the state, given that state can’t search people’s mail. Local abortion rights activists vow to help maintain access to the pills. Medication abortions already accounted for the majority of abortions performed at Jackson Women’s Health Organization.

READ MORE: What does abortion look like in Mississippi now?

For many Mississippians, the closest place to obtain a legal abortion will be southern Illinois. Every neighboring state is also set to ban abortion in almost all cases.

Memphis Center for Reproductive Health, a clinic that is more accessible for many north Mississippians than the Jackson clinic, has announced plans to set up a new location in Carbondale, Illinois – a six-hour drive from Jackson.

What are lawmakers in Mississippi doing to address that state’s infant mortality rate, the highest in the country, and the state’s high maternal mortality rate?

Republican leaders have offered few proposals to address the state’s abysmal infant and maternal health outcomes. This year, Speaker of the House Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, killed a Republican-led proposal to expand postpartum coverage from 60 days to 12 months after childbirth.

The Legislature recently passed a bill that will provide a $3.5 million tax credit for crisis pregnancy centers, loosely regulated nonprofits that offer counseling and resources for pregnant women but which sometimes peddle inaccurate information about abortion.

Gov. Tate Reeves has not responded to questions about how much money his administration would invest to support extending postpartum Medicaid coverage for new moms – a measure that died in the Legislature this year. About 60% of pregnant women in Mississippi are on Medicaid.

In early June 2022, though, the governor published an op-ed titled “The New Pro-Life Agenda,” declaring that the pro-life movement must be more than anti-abortion. Almost no specifics on policy and funding proposals were mentioned. He wrote that his office has spent the past five months analyzing “our state’s laws and regulations in order to identify any possible existing rules that might present an obstacle to expectant mothers.” His office did not answer questions about what the review had found, and Mississippi Today is still waiting for the office to fulfill a public records request for that documentation.

Reeves, along with Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann and Speaker of the House Philip Gunn, praised last week’s SCOTUS decision overturning Roe v. Wade, but also said that now it means mothers, children and families will need more resources.

On Monday, Hosemann announce the “Senate Study Group on Women, Children and Families,” a nine-member committee tasked with making recommendations to the Legislature on policies pertaining to families and children from birth to 3 years old. Gunn announced last Friday the “Speaker’s Commission on the Sanctity of Life” to examine issues and policies affecting mothers and children.

Are you following around reproductive rights and abortion access in Mississippi?

READ MORE: The state fighting to dismantle abortion rights has a long history of permissive abortion laws

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

Author of Mississippi abortion case law talks future

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Author of Mississippi’s 15-week ban says state leaders must pass reforms to help women or ‘get out of the way’

Becky Currie wrote the Mississippi law that changed the nation.

Currie, a lawmaker, nurse, mom and devout Christian from Brookhaven, said she was “as happy as I can be” Friday, nearly five years after she began writing legislation to outlaw after 15 weeks.

Now, a 50-year-old precedent giving women the right to abortion is dead. The procedure will be illegal in Mississippi. As for Currie, she said the work has only begun.

Currie, 65, will run for another four years in the Legislature, where she said she plans to fight against a hostile, patriarchal state leadership in order to advance policies that allow women to thrive.

Mississippians have little reason to believe Currie will be successful, she concedes.

“I don’t have faith in the system. Because I have watched it fail time, after time, after time,” she said. “But I can tell you, my next four years, I’m gonna be hell on wheels.”

Mississippi Today spoke with Currie on Friday after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. Below is a condensed version of the conversation, edited for length and clarity.

Mississippi Today: Give me a little more of your feel today, being the author of this bill and then seeing this come to fruition.

Currie: Well, you know, we started writing this bill in 2017. It became law in 2018 and then it was immediately overturned, and I went about my regular life for a few years until I heard that it was going before the Supreme Court. You know, for the first time in my lifetime, I felt that there was a chance. That we had some conservative justices on the court, and that we had an opportunity that maybe this could actually be overturned.

Just the fact that they agreed to hear the case was a positive sign, because we hadn’t even had that happen in 50 years. So my hopes were up. You know, I am a Christian and I don’t believe that murder is the answer. And so, I’m very excited about this bill and I know that our work is just beginning.

I’m well aware that we can’t take away this right, and then say, “And good luck to everybody,” and turn around and walk away. And for me, this past legislative session, the work began. When I realized that this could come to fruition, that we had to be there for women.

I got with Rep. Angela Cockerham and together, she and I did the equal pay. And we went to the Speaker and said, “We’re gonna do this.” You know, it had been tried again and again by others to get the equal pay bill done. We let him know, you know, we need to be behind women. And this has got to be done, so we can make sure that these women that are going to have children are paid equally. And it’s a shame that Mississippi was last in the nation to do that, but we got that done. I worked very diligently with other members and talked with the Speaker about increasing the funds for the Children Advocacy Centers. They lost a lot of federal funding this year and they are in desperate need. We met some of those needs, but I will be honest, it was not satisfactory to me. These agencies are the ones that take care of our children, now, that have been abused or neglected or need help. The court systems use them and we failed them by not making sure that funding was where it needed to be this year.

It is imperative that we do that in the upcoming session.

We are in a wonderful position. Our economics are good. Our rainy-day fund is good, but we failed to see some of the problems that we were gonna cause when we decreased the State Health Department budget. And I’m gonna fight and I’m asking other leaders to help me. We have got to make sure that our state health departments are open in every county and that at least one day a week, a nurse practitioner is there to write prescriptions and hand out birth control.

There’s no way that we can take this away — and I’m 100% pro-life — but I want every woman to not feel that they cannot receive birth control.

They need to be able to. Most people, because we don’t expand , most people don’t have the money to go to the doctor once a year. They don’t have the money to buy the prescription. And right now, with the , and inflation the way it is, there is no way they could go to the doctor and get a prescription to take monthly birth control.

And we, as a people, have to provide that service so we don’t have unwanted and more abused children. We have to make sure that if women want jobs, that we pay them equally, and that we make it a workforce development monies, ‘cause we spend so much on it, that it is making sure that women are getting jobs and having a career so they can raise these children.

MT: We don’t have a good track record of supporting women. And we don’t have a good track record of funding public programs to help low-income people. So how do you commit to me, as a Mississippi taxpayer, that you’re going to do that? How can I trust that you’re going to do that?

Currie: Well, I can tell you that I’m a nurse. And I am a mother and a grandmother.  … I have mostly been a single mother all of my life. And I know how hard it is to raise children. And I know how hard it is to go to work and be the mom and the dad and take care of children by yourself.

I completely have lived that. And I also know that society doesn’t help you. And I struggled to go through nursing school to take care of my children and thank God I did. And thank God my parents helped me during that time, or I wouldn’t have made it. But I understand more than you think how hard it is and, and how much it takes. And look, that was in the 70’s for me, that I was a single mother, so I can tell you it would be much scarier now. I understand that people are struggling day to day to put food on the table and to take medicines and put gas in their car. I understand it’s worse now than it’s ever been.

All I can tell you is that I will not rest until we have places for women to go. And, you know, we’re gonna have to, whether we like it or not, there’s gonna be unwanted pregnancies. We’re gonna have to make sure that adoption is readily available and affordable. And I will say this to you: We don’t want to make it so easy that somebody that’s going to abuse a child is able to adopt, but our adoption rates and foster children, all of these things are going up, and we as Mississippi government has (sic) done a terrible job with DHS. We as Mississippi government has (sic) done a terrible job with collecting child support from deadbeat dads. We as Mississippians have done a terrible job of taking care of pregnant women and giving them the postpartum care that they need. And I am well aware of that.

And I will call everyone out that now does not get on this ship with me and steer this in a right direction. You know, we have been given this gift. We have begged and prayed and asked for this ruling. And I’m telling you, now our job begins. If we don’t take care of what God is asking us to do, you know, because I’m very religious and I will tell you that, God has asked me to write this bill.

We have this, and now he’s telling us to feed his sheep. But I know, if you’re not religious, Anna, that’s not gonna — but anybody with religion understands that the Lord said, “If you love me, feed my sheep.” Well, we have an opportunity to show that we will feed his sheep.

MT: I’ve covered these programs and I’ve seen how—

Currie: How horrible they are. They’re horrible.

MT: Why not fix the programs and then outlaw abortion?

Currie: Well, you know, I wasn’t in charge of all that. And you know what else I will tell you to say: If the leadership, now, doesn’t step up to the plate — and you write this, Anna — we need to vote them out.  Vote them out. Because I have fought and fought and fought with leadership on postpartum care, DHS, and they continue to make women feel like we asking questions — we are a pain. Women in the Legislature are looked down on as, “Oh, those lil pesky women, asking questions again about how things are done.” You know, I’ve raised questions about Young Wells (Young Williams, Mississippi’s child support contractor) and the disaster that that has been. And read the PEER report if you don’t wanna believe a woman.

Because our politicians, our leadership wants to help their friend who’s a lawyer running this program. I am sick to of all that. I’m sick to death. And write all this. I don’t care. I’m sick to death of politicians who just want to give our Medicaid monies to Mississippi CAN companies to leave the state with it instead of taking care of our citizens and our children and our women. I’m sick of it. And I’m telling you now, either you wanna work through this process, you wanna help the people of Mississippi or get out of the way.

All I can do is fight. You know how they are. They’re gonna be pissed that I’ve said all this, but if you don’t wanna help us, get out of the way and let somebody who wants to.

MT: But so much of what we’re talking about, it just takes money and it takes political will for programs that they see as socialism, Becky, that’s the problem.

Currie: Well, you know, Anna, the deal is, half of what I just said — I mean, I realize expansion of Medicaid, they do — but half of what I just said is easy. We should have done this years ago, DHS, CPS, child support. You know, sending our Medicaid dollars to Mississippi CAN so they can give them under the table cash money. I mean, my God, how corrupt do we wanna be? But now is the time. God has given us this wonderful – what we’ve prayed for for 50 years. And if you don’t want to work to make all of this better, for God’s sake, get out of the way.

MT: What would you say is the number one action? Because I don’t know yet if they talked about very specific policy changes or investments (in the Friday press conference). What would you say is the first step?

Currie: The first step would be, make sure that every county health department is open with the ability to prescribe birth control.

MT: Do you know if crisis pregnancy centers prescribe birth control?

Currie: I don’t think they do. I think it’s the crisis after the problem is there already. I think that’s where they go to help make this decision, am I going to have an abortion.

(Editor’s note: Studies have found the majority of crisis centers do not provide or discuss contraceptives and sometimes provide misleading information about birth control).

MT: I think that — as Tate Reeves has represented a while ago when he gave that $3 million (tax credit to crisis pregnancy centers) — I think the men in leadership think that the crisis pregnancy centers are the solution, whereas when I talk to you, you’re talking about county health clinics. You’re talking about the child advocacy centers.

Currie: I hate to tell you, I disagree 100% that the crisis centers are your first step because that’s after the problem exists. So why can’t we help women as of today? But because today abortion is illegal in the state of Mississippi.

(Editor’s note: Abortion is still legal in Mississippi, but a trigger law on the books means it will likely become illegal in coming weeks).

So today we need to make sure every woman in every county has access to birth control. And that may not sound like the Christian thing to say. That’s the most realistic thing to say.

I’m a Christian, but I never want a woman to have to be in the position of having to decide to abort a child or not. In 2022, a woman should never have to come down to that decision with the technology we have. It’s just plain access, non-access to care.

MT: The Medicaid thing is the best example that you can be like, “Alright, let’s see, so we’re outlawing abortion, so women can’t have abortions if they want them, but then, we’re not going to extend postpartum Medicaid, so they’re going to lose their coverage after (60) days.” Like, that doesn’t seem like we’re supporting women.

Currie: Let’s say you have a 19-year-old. Let’s say she had a baby and she’s gonna lose her coverage. And she’s staying up all night. The baby’s got colic, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And she didn’t make it in to get her checkup. She’s got postpartum depression and she needs to be on birth control, but she didn’t make it in ‘cause her life is turned upside down right now. But we don’t wanna take care of her and we’re gonna end that.

That was a chance for us to reach out, knowing that this bill, by all accounts, it was gonna go through. And last year, it passed the Senate and it didn’t come up in the House. The Speaker wouldn’t let it out, but the House was prepared to pass it.

And so that’s what I’m saying to you either, either work with us or get out of the way.

MT: How do you explain that though? Like again, to someone outside the state, what happened there?

Currie: It’s very hard to explain unless you know the backstory that he’s (House Speaker Philip Gunn) running for governor and he doesn’t wanna look like he expanded Medicaid.

MT: The feeling is that we know what these policies are. We know things that we can do to help, but men in leadership are standing in the way?

Currie: They are.

MT: While also saying that they’re doing those things, that they support those things.

Currie: Right. And, you know, I think that my number one bill, my number one legislation to work on is that we make sure every county health department is open and staffed. Because … there’s a lot of women already, that have just ended up pregnant because they had no resources. How much more can the state pay for, because you go on Medicaid the day you find out you’re pregnant. You have a positive pregnancy test, you are entitled to Medicaid. There’s no questions asked.

So you’re gonna pay for all of this. You’re gonna pay for whatever comes in that pregnancy, maybe a NICU. Who knows how much that mother and child is gonna cost the taxpayers instead of just giving them the opportunity to go into their local health department and receive the care that they need.

I mean, you have to think of the amount of care that goes undone because the local health departments used to play a huge role in community health services. So, I mean, we could go down the rabbit hole on this, there’s no telling what’s not being tended to.

MT: But Tate Reeves is just really against any government spending. I mean, that’s not a secret.

Currie: They are unless it benefits them. It’s always a soundbite.

MT: But so how are you gonna get them to increase a state budget?

Currie: Well, let me just say this to you: We do all the time. We give pay raises. We gave enormous pay raises this year. We started a new agency. Republicans don’t grow government. You know, we started a new agency this year for broadband. They tried to start a new agency for . And I killed that bill. So Republicans, if they wanna really be Republicans, you know, don’t spend it on the good ole boy system, then let’s do the basic needs of the people.

So if they wanna get into that rabbit hole, I’ll go down it with them. You know, you grow government, you give pay raises, you increase PIN numbers. They give their friends and their buddies pay raises and they leave everybody else off, or they fire ’em if they don’t like them. Not one time has it (removing agencies from under the personnel board) worked. There’s just so many things, but the good old boy system is old and tiring.

MT: Are you worried that — I mean, again, in this day, it’s more crucial than ever that these supports are put in place for women who are facing these decisions. Are you scared what’s gonna happen if those supports don’t come or if the leadership blocks you?

Absolutely. I’m concerned for women. And you know, not just women, children. I don’t know if you remember, our health departments are where I took all my children to get their vaccinations. At one point it was a big place to go for . And now, we have left them with nothing.

So, you know, we are spending a whole lot of money on a lot of other things. So let’s put our money where we know it works, where people can get the care they need.

It’s not expanding Medicaid, which they’re so against. If you don’t wanna expand Medicaid, you’ve got to expand access to care.

I think that is the number one issue. If we don’t do that, shame on all of us.

… Look, we’re all wrapped up in the (U.S. Supreme Court) decision, but the work has just begun. And I don’t want someone to feel like I’ve got to go to another state. I want them to feel that they have the support here. You know, I want them to feel that we did everything we could. If you didn’t go get birth control, because we made it easy and free, if you didn’t go do it, that’s not my fault. That’s yours, you know?

MT: Well, I’m just telling you, women do not feel supported in this state.

Currie: Oh no. I don’t feel supported in this state. I just need you to know, I get it. When a woman stands up in the House to ask a question, I see men roll their eyes. Okay? I see their expression, I see the expression on the Speaker’s face. When I push my button, he’s like, “Oh crap.” He doesn’t want to hear from us. But I want people to know that.

MT: How does it feel knowing that you authored this bill that literally everyone in the nation is—

Currie: Talking about.

MT: Talking about and impacted by.

Currie: You know, I knew that this bill was special when we did it. I don’t know if you’ve read my Newsweek article. I wrote why I wrote and picked 15 weeks.

I knew that this was the right thing to do. Look, it’s not fun at my house on Thanksgiving now, let me just tell you.

MT: Why?

Currie: My brother-in-law lives in Boulder, Colorado.

MT: Oh.

Currie: Does that help? He and his girlfriend hate my guts, you know?  But it’s okay. I mean, I’m okay and I’ve had thick skin for a long time. I don’t know how God made me this way. It’s kind of bad though, it’s kind of a Scarlett O’Hara type thing. “I’ll worry about that another day,” you know? But I’ve had thick skin for a long time.

So, you know, I realize that there’s a lot of unhappy people right now. And I just don’t want anybody to think that I’m not aware that we have changed the nation. And that it’s now our responsibility to help take care of women and children. I feel that from the bottom of my heart.

MT: And I just keep coming back to the fact that I don’t foresee that happening.

Currie: And you may be right. But it won’t be because I didn’t fight for it.

Look, I get it. And look, we’ve really never done anything to prove you wrong.

MT: Right. I mean, I feel like I’ve earned my skepticism at this point, you know?

Currie: Absolutely. You have. And look, I have to tell you something: I don’t have faith in the system. Because I have watched it fail time, after time, after time.

… But I can tell you, my next four years, I’m gonna be hell on wheels.

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

Mississippi state officials react to Supreme Court Ruling

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www.wxxv25.com – WXXV Staff – 2022-06-24 14:35:08

Governor Tate Reeves says this is a ‘joyous day.’ He released a statement minutes after the decision regarding was announced, praising Supreme Court justices for the ruling.

But he warns, “the work is not over yet.”

says, “The Pro-Life Movement must dedicate itself to ensuring mothers and their babies receive the support they both need during pregnancy and after. Mississippi’s…

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Gunn on Mississippi abortion case: ‘an end to this evil’

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Gunn from MS House well on abortion ruling: ‘This is where this started … an end to this evil’

Mississippi House Speaker Philip Gunn called Friday’s ruling on a Mississippi case that overturned Roe vs. Wade rights “probably the most historic day maybe in our lives” and “an end to this evil in our nation.”

Gunn, who helped push the Mississippi Legislature’s 2018 ban on abortions after 15 weeks — hoping at the time that it would result in a high court challenge and ruling — held a press conference from the well of the House on Friday, because “this is where this started.” He thanked members of the state House and Senate for passing the bill, former Gov. Phil Bryant for signing it into law, the U.S. Supreme Court for upholding it and “the millions of people who prayed for an end to this evil in our nation” among others.

Gunn said the high court decision will bring “new challenges” for Mississippi to make sure “those who are born have the resources they need.”

READ MORE: U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade

Mississippi, the poorest state in the nation, suffers from lack of prenatal and postnatal and all other forms of and has the highest infant mortality rate in the nation and one of the highest maternal rates. It has also for years faced federal court decrees to address its substandard foster care and children’s services system.

Gunn has steadfastly opposed expansion to cover the working poor in Mississippi and earlier this year torpedoed a Senate proposal to extend postpartum coverage for millions of Mississippi mothers. On Friday he said he will create “Speaker’s Commission on the Sanctity of Life” to address those resources and other issues for Mississippi mothers and children. He said he also expects churches in the state to step up and help.

READ MORE: Doctors asked Speaker Philip Gunn to extend health coverage for moms and babies. Then he blocked it

When peppered with questions about Medicaid expansion, postpartum coverage and lack of resources by media on Friday, Gunn said “All of those things you’re mentioning are things that will be on the table” with his new commission. But he did say he still opposes Medicaid expansion.

Mississippi has a 2007 “trigger law” on the books set to ban all abortions in the state once Roe vs. Wade protections are overturned. The law provides exceptions for saving the life of a mother and for for rape — if a report has been made — but not for incest. Gunn said he does not foresee lawmakers revisiting that abortion ban law, for which he voted as a House member before becoming speaker.

Gunn said he does not believe abortions should be allowed in cases of incest.

“Personally, no, I do not,” Gunn said. “I believe life begins at conception … That is my personal belief.”

Gunn cut his press conference off as media asked numerous other questions.

“I want this day to be about Roe vs. Wade being overturned,” Gunn said. “We’re not going to go down that road today. We are not going after contraceptives — I’ve already made that clear — I think we are getting far afield and we can have discussions about those issues another time.”

READ MORE: Doctors asked Speaker Philip Gunn to extend health coverage for moms and babies. Then he blocked it

Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann, who has said he is at least open to discussion about Medicaid expansion and who pushed for postpartum coverage for mothers, in a statement Friday praised the court decision but said Mississippi has work to do in helping children and families. Members of the Senate have been working on the issues since a draft court opinion overturning Roe was leaked weeks ago.

“The Court’s decision today returns the right to protect the unborn to the states. Mississippi is a leader on this critical issue, with a law already in place which will prohibit abortion,” Hosemann said. “I am pro-life. I am also pro-child. In addition to protecting the unborn, we must also focus on other ways to support women, children, and families.”

Gov. Tate Reeves, who presided over the Senate as lieutenant governor when Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban was passed, in a statement called Friday “a joyous day.”

“Tomorrow, we will wake to a new world, enthusiastically prepared to take on the challenges ahead and to take every step necessary to support mothers and children,” Reeves said. “We must remember that our work is not yet over. The pro-life movement must dedicate itself to ensuring mothers and their babies receive the support they both need during pregnancy and after.”

Reeves, like Gunn, has for many years opposed Medicaid expansion despite pleas from hospitals, doctors and advocacy groups and has not offered any major alternative proposals to help the state’s substandard health care.

State Rep. Becky Currie, R-Brookhaven, who authored the House 15-week abortion ban that led to the Supreme Court overturning Roe, said lawmakers should have extended postpartum Medicaid coverage and should be working to help mothers and children.

Currie said Gunn blocked the postpartum bill from a vote fearing he could be painted as a supporter of Medicaid expansion in future political races.

“Mississippi government is run by three men who want to see who can pee the furthest,” Currie said.

Currie said Mississippi should re-invest in Department of Health clinics — many of which were shuttered or limited years ago during state budget cuts — and provide other programs for women. Considering Mississippi’s track record for policies supporting women’s health and economic security, Currie said she understands people’s skepticism.

“I wrote the bill to end abortion, but I’m fighting just as hard to take care of women,” Currie said.

Staff writer Anna Wolfe contributed to this article.

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

U.S Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade

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U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade

The on Friday overturned , the 1973 landmark case that established a person’s right to an

Mississippi will likely be one of 13 states to ban the abortion procedure immediately due to a trigger law passed by legislators in 2007. 

“The Constitution does not confer a right to abortion; Roe and Casey are overruled; and the authority to regulate abortion is returned to the people and their elected representatives,” Justice Samuel Alito wrote in his opinion.

Republican state officials in Mississippi lauded the decision on Friday.

“Today marks a new era in American history — and a great day for the American
people,” said Lynn Fitch in a statement. “I commend the Court for restoring constitutional principle and returning this important issue to the American people.”

Fitch did not say in her statement whether she has made the official determination that Roe has been overturned, which would effectively put Mississippi’s trigger law into effect.

“Our state’s historic case before the United States Supreme Court was the catalyst for overturning Roe v. Wade and has made the nation safer for children than it was just a few short hours ago,” said Gov. Tate Reeves.

Chief Justice John Roberts, concurring in the judgment issued by the Court, wrote that he would have taken “a more measured course” by getting rid of the fetal viability line established by Roe and Casey, but not overturning Roe entirely.

Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan wrote in their dissent that above all others, poor women who cannot afford to seek out an abortion in a state where it remains legal will be harmed by the Court’s ruling.

“As of today, this Court holds, a State can always force a woman to give birth, prohibiting even the earliest abortions,” the justices wrote. “A State can thus transform what, when freely undertaken, is a wonder into what, when forced, may be a nightmare.”

Dobbs v. centers around Mississippi legislation passed and signed in 2018 called “The Act to Prohibit Abortion After 15 Weeks.” That law and an even stricter law that would ban abortion after six weeks were both ruled unconstitutional twice in the last few years — by both a U.S. District Court and the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.

The U.S. Supreme Court in May 2021 decided it would take up Dobbs after meeting 13 times to consider it, a move many legal analysts called unprecedented. 

This marked the first time since the landmark 1973 abortion rights case Roe v. Wade that the U.S. Supreme Court has taken up a a pre-viability ban — a law that prohibits access to abortion based on the amount of time pregnant before the fetus is viable, or around 24 weeks.

The authors of Mississippi’s abortion ban bill said that one motivating factor for passing it was that a challenge to the law could make its way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“Assuming this bill were to become law, these challenges take two to three years to make their way up to the Supreme Court,” state Sen. Joey Fillingane, the Republican who authored the bill, said at the time. “The United States Supreme Court … has indicated that the state has a couple of interests when it comes to regulating abortion. One is protecting the health and life of the mother. Another is protecting the potentiality of human life.”

After the New Orleans-based federal appeals court upheld the lower ruling by also overturning both Mississippi’s 15-week and six-week bans, Attorney General Lynn Fitch petitioned the Supreme Court to take the case, citing state’s interests in regulating abortion.

In Mississippi’s original appeal to the Supreme Court, Fitch argued the 15-week ban complied with existing precedent, and that the court should only overturn Roe if it concluded there was no other way to uphold the ban.

The particular question the justices agreed to decide in accepting the case was “whether all pre-viability prohibitions on elective abortions are unconstitutional.” 

Fitch then filed a brief on July 22, 2021, that abandoned this earlier, narrower focus on pre-viability restrictions.

In the brief, Fitch urged the Court to overturn Roe, calling it and further abortion-related rulings, most notably Planned Parenthood v. Casey, “egregiously wrong.” The state argued they recognize a right with no actual constitutional basis.

“They have proven hopelessly unworkable,” Fitch wrote. “They have inflicted profound damage … And nothing but a full break from those cases can stem the harms they have caused.”

When the Supreme Court heard oral arguments for the Dobbs case on Dec. 1, 2021, Chief Justice John Roberts, viewed as the most moderate of the court’s conservative wing, appeared frustrated with what he suggested was a bait-and-switch strategy the state used to transform the case into a challenge to Roe and Casey. Roberts voiced his preference to stick to that narrower question on pre-viability bans, saying “the thing that is at issue before us today is 15 weeks.” 

Justice Samuel Alito rejected that position, saying “the only real options we have” are to reaffirm Roe or to overrule it.

This story will be updated.

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

What does abortion look like in Mississippi now?

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What does abortion look like in Mississippi now?

will likely become illegal in Mississippi in almost all cases within the next few weeks.

Now that the has overturned , ending the constitutional right to abortion, Mississippi’s 2007 trigger law looks set to take effect. The law permits abortions only when the mother’s life is at risk or when the pregnancy resulted from a rape that has been reported to law enforcement. 

The trigger law takes effect 10 days after the issues a determination that Roe has been overturned. For the first time in 50 years, it will be nearly impossible to obtain a legal abortion in the state of Mississippi.

On Friday morning, Attorney General Lynn Fitch released a statement praising the ruling.

“Roe v Wade is now behind us, consigned to the list of infamous cases that
collapsed under the weight of their errors,” the statement said. “This decision is a victory not only for women and children, but for the Court itself.”

But the statement does not constitute her official determination that Roe has been overturned.

“We intend to give the opinion and the analysis contemplated by the law the thoughtful attention they deserve,” chief of staff Michelle Williams said in an email.

Diane Derzis, the owner of Mississippi’s only abortion clinic, the facility at the center of the Dobbs case, has said it will close. She plans to open a new clinic in Las Cruces, New Mexico, about an hour from El Paso. 

In 2019, the state passed a law banning abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected, usually around six weeks of pregnancy – before many people know they are pregnant. That law contains no exception for people who have been raped, meaning victims would have an extremely narrow window during which they could obtain an abortion.

But advocates are determined to maintain access to the procedure, which about 5,000 Mississippians obtained in 2020, according to the Mississippi Department of Health. 

The rate of abortions in Mississippi was 4.3 abortions occurring in the state per 1,000 reproductive-age women in 2017– one of the lowest in the country. But the rate of Mississippians receiving abortions was 8.3 per 1,000 reproductive-age women, according to the Guttmacher Institute, indicating that many Mississippians have already been seeking abortions out of state. (The national rate was 11.4 per 1,000 reproductive-age women in 2019.)

The trigger law and fetal heartbeat ban apply to all forms of abortion, including medication abortions that the World Health Organization says can safely end a pregnany up to 12 weeks. Pro-life lawmakers see a need for stricter laws against the pills, which can relatively easily be obtained online for about $100 in many cases.

Sen. Joey Fillingane, R-Sumrall, previously told Mississippi Today that legislation specific to medication abortion could direct law enforcement to focus on the issue, perhaps with funding to support enforcement efforts. 

But reproductive rights advocates and many legal experts say it will be nearly impossible to keep medication abortion out of the state, given that state can’t search people’s mail. Local abortion rights activists vow to help maintain access to the pills.

“We are going to do it right under their noses, and they won’t know, or they will know it, but they’re not going to be able to prove it,” said Michelle Colón, executive director of SHERo Mississippi, a nonprofit that aims to promote leadership among Black women and girls in the state.

Medication abortions already accounted for the majority of abortions performed at

Abortion funds in the state and across the country also plan to continue raising money to help people pay to travel out of state for the procedure. For many Mississippians, the closest place to obtain a legal abortion will be southern Illinois. Every neighboring state is also set to ban abortion in almost all cases.

CHOICES: Memphis Center for Reproductive Health, a clinic that is more accessible for many north Mississippians than the Jackson clinic, has announced plans to set up a new location in Carbondale, Illinois – a six-hour drive from Jackson. 

In the days after the leak of Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito’s draft opinion overturning Roe, Gov. Tate Reeves appeared on several national television programs and claimed Mississippi would focus on “helping those moms that maybe have an unexpected and unwanted pregnancy.” 

He also declined to rule out prohibitions on certain forms of contraceptives, like Plan B and IUDs. He later said he is “not interested in banning contraceptives” but refused to answer a question from Mississippi Today about what, exactly, he considers to be a contraceptive.

Republican leaders have offered few proposals to address the state’s abysmal infant and maternal health outcomes. This year, Speaker of the House Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, killed a Republican-led proposal to expand postpartum coverage from 60 days to 12 months after childbirth. 

Mississippi has the country’s highest infant mortality rate and one of the country’s highest pre-term birth rates. Its maternal mortality rate is higher than the national average, which is the highest in the developed world

Black women in Mississippi are about three times as likely as white women to die of pregnancy-related complications. 

The Legislature recently passed a bill that will provide a $3.5 million tax credit for crisis pregnancy centers, loosely regulated nonprofits that offer counseling and resources for pregnant women but which sometimes peddle inaccurate information about abortion. 

Laura Knight, president of the advocacy group Pro-Life Mississippi, said in an email to Mississippi Today that that legislation was “one small step” toward addressing the state’s high infant mortality rate.

“As a registered nurse, when I look at the data, it seems to me that a very complex set of factors – one of them being that we also have the highest rate of out-of-wedlock births – contribute to this problem,” she said of infant deaths in Mississippi. “There is not going to be a simple solution.”

Knight also said Mississippi’s maternal mortality rate is “already very low.”

“According to the CDC, the leading cause of for women of reproductive age is unintentional accidents, followed by cancer and heart disease,” she wrote. “It seems we’d want to concentrate our efforts on those problem areas.”

Fitch’s statement pledged to “renew our commitment to weaving a safety net that helps women in challenging circumstances and gives their children life and hope.” But it offered few specifics.

Republican leaders, including Gov. Tate Reeves, have made similar claims in recent weeks. In an op-ed earlier this month, Reeves said he wants to “strengthen our social services infrastructure” and “build grant programs” for expectant mothers following the likely end to legal abortion in Mississippi. 

But his office did not respond to questions about how much money his administration would invest in those programs and whether the governor would support extending postpartum Medicaid coverage for new moms – a measure that died in the Legislature this year. About 60% of pregnant women in Mississippi are on Medicaid.

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

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