Roe v. Wade

Mississippi maternity care deserts by county

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Data Dive: Access to maternity care in Mississippi, by county

More than half the counties in Mississippi are considered maternity care deserts, according to the new report from the March of Dimes. These counties have no hospitals providing obstetric care, no OB-GYNs and no certified nurse midwives. 

Discontinued labor and delivery services and shuttered neonatal intensive care units have dominated headlines in the in recent months, painting a bleak picture for mothers and babies’ access to care. Greenwood Leflore Hospital closed Leflore County’s only labor and delivery unit on Oct. 15. Over the summer, Ochsner Medical Center in Hancock County did the same. 

The Mississippi Delta’s only neonatal intensive care unit closed in July. A few months ago, the NICU at Merit Health Central in south Jackson also shut down, raising concerns about disruptions in care for high-risk moms and babies.

The trend of reduced access and care for mothers and babies — on the heels of the Dobbs decision that overturned and is expected to result in 5,000 additional babies in Mississippi alone — does not bode well for a state already plagued by high infant and maternal mortality rates and poor health outcomes.

READ MORE: Mississippi’s maternity care desert: A look inside

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

A look inside- Mississippi Today

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‘Death at your toes’: A look inside a Mississippi maternity care desert

YAZOO CITY — Jamara Johnson knew something was wrong when she went into labor with her third baby early in the morning of Aug. 30. 

She was 38 weeks pregnant and had been in pain the night before. She attributed it to overextending herself while cleaning her apartment in Yazoo City – “nesting,” she said. When her water broke around 5 a.m. – a greenish color she’d never seen with her first two babies – she realized she needed to get to a hospital as quickly as possible. 

Johnson lives in a county defined in a new report as a “maternity care desert” — there have not been any labor and delivery services in Yazoo County since the early 1990s, and there are no practicing OB-GYNs. Many women go to the Federally Qualified Health Center about a half hour away in Canton, while others, like Johnson, see the doctors at an OB-GYN group in Flowood, more than an hour away from her home.

More than half the counties in Mississippi are considered maternity care deserts, according to the new report from the March of Dimes. These counties have no hospitals providing obstetric care, no OB-GYNs and no certified nurse midwives. 

Discontinued labor and delivery services and shuttered neonatal intensive care units have dominated headlines in the in recent months, painting a bleak picture for mothers and babies’ access to care. Greenwood Leflore Hospital closed Leflore County’s only labor and delivery unit on Oct. 15. Over the summer, Ochsner Medical Center in Hancock County did the same. 

The Mississippi Delta’s only neonatal intensive care unit closed in July. A few months ago, the NICU at Merit Health Central in south Jackson also shut down, raising concerns about disruptions in care for high-risk moms and babies.

The trend of reduced access and care for mothers and babies — on the heels of the Dobbs decision that overturned and is expected to result in 5,000 additional babies in Mississippi alone — does not bode well for a state already plagued by high infant and maternal mortality rates and poor health outcomes.

Dr. Rachael Morris, assistant professor of maternal fetal medicine at the , travels the state training emergency responders, nurses and providers in small, rural hospitals in obstetric emergencies and caring for pregnant and recently delivered mothers who may have complications or life-threatening problems. 

The state’s problems did not happen overnight, she said. 

“But it’s really only getting worse. The nature of this problem, it’s additive at this point,” she said. “We have a very complex, medically diverse, underserved population with a lot of high-risk patients, whether it’s diabetes, obesity, hypertension — this is a lot of our mothers in Mississippi. So when you have that baseline complexity, that creates a very high-risk population for pregnancy.”

The unhealthy population in Mississippi, a leader nationally in chronic disease, means women of childbearing age are already behind the starting line. When emergencies come up – as they will do in high-risk pregnancies – access to nearby care is critical.  

“When you’re talking about a baby and a pregnancy and a delivery, minutes matter for that mom’s health and that baby’s health,” said Dr. Anita Henderson, president of the Mississippi chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. 

Minutes mattered for another Yazoo City woman with eerily similar circumstances as Johnson: Tamara Stuckey was also pregnant with her third child and was a patient at the same OB/GYN group in Flowood as Johnson. On Aug. 28, 2019, the 32-year-old Stuckey was 35 weeks pregnant and taken by ambulance from her home in Yazoo City to St. Dominic Hospital, according to a filed by her fiance and the father of her other two children. 

She was complaining of constant and sharp abdominal pains, and her medical records indicated Stuckey, who had given birth by cesarean section for both previous babies, was at high risk for postpartum hemorrhage. Her OB-GYN ordered a fetal ultrasound but did not investigate her complaints of “uterine irritability,” or mild contractions, and pain in her right shoulder, according to the complaint. She was discharged that evening and sent back home — an hour away.

That same night, her fiance called emergency medical services again. Stuckey reported a pain level of 10 on a scale of 1 to 10, the complaint states, and was again transported to St. Dominic. She arrived at the hospital around 1:18 a.m. Her baby, a little boy they planned to name Daxton, was already dead. The complaint says medical records indicate the last fetal heart tones detected were at 1:01 and 1:02 a.m. 

Within 30 minutes of arriving at the hospital, Stuckey went into cardiopulmonary arrest. Her baby was delivered stillborn early that morning, and the next day, Stuckey died.

“The maternal autopsy report revealed massive intrapartum hemorrhage, with the abdominal cavity containing four liters of free blood,” the lawsuit complaint states. 

Stuckey’s fiance Damien Sanders and his attorneys declined to be interviewed for this story.

In their response to the complaint, Women’s Health Associates and Dr. David Waddell, Stuckey’s OB-GYN, denied the allegations and agreed only to the basic facts listed in the document. St. Dominic Memorial Hospital and St. Dominic Health Services both said in their responses that the injuries and damages to Stuckey “resulted from medical conditions, events or the acts or omissions of persons or entities other than St. Dominic.” 

Baptist Medical Center – Yazoo in Yazoo City, Mississippi. The hospital offers no obstetric services.

Johnson didn’t want to risk her baby’s life by waiting. 

She called her doctor’s office immediately when her water broke, and a nurse said to get to St. Dominic as quickly as possible. The discoloration meant the baby was at risk for meconium aspiration, which can occur when the baby passes his first stool (meconium) while in the womb. Aspiration can occur when the newborn breathes in a mixture of meconium and amniotic fluid (the liquid that surrounds the baby in the womb). 

The condition can cause difficulty breathing, pneumonia, and at worst,

In the bathroom early that morning, Johnson weighed her options: she could wait for who knows how long for an ambulance to come to her apartment, or she could go to Baptist Memorial Hospital-Yazoo, where she would then be transferred via ambulance to Jackson. 

Or, since she wasn’t having contractions yet, she could get in the car and drive.

She had made this same game-time decision less than a year before when she went into labor with her second child on Sept. 20, 2021. She drove with the child’s father to the Yazoo City hospital but didn’t bother getting out of the car when they saw there was no ambulance there, so they decided to take their chances. 

Less than an hour after leaving the hospital, Johnson called 911 and they pulled over in Sullivan’s Grocery in Flora. Minutes later, Johnson gave birth in the back of an ambulance in the grocery store parking lot at 1:45 a.m. 

“If I was still in Yazoo City, I would’ve had to wait on that same ambulance (that met me in Flora) to come, so I just went on and took my chances,” Johnson said of her decision. 

With her third delivery, she felt even more pressed for time: she needed to get to a hospital capable of treating her baby in case there was something wrong. She called her aunt Summer Brokman, who lived about five minutes away, and asked her to go with her to the hospital. The two started the drive with their hazard flashers on. About 30 minutes into the hour-long drive, Johnson was stopped again — but this time, it was in Pocahontas, and it was for a different reason.

A Highway Patrol car had pulled the two over on Highway 49.  

Brokman told her to try and be calm and not make any sudden movements. But Johnson, who had been driving until that point, was starting to have contractions and was in pain.

The officer asked for Johnson’s license and registration, and Brokman pleaded with the officer.

“I was like, ‘Sir, look, she’s having a baby. She’s in labor, she delivered her last baby on the side of the road … can you follow us to the hospital?’” Brokman recalled. “And he was like, ‘License and registration.’” 

The two were shocked, but Johnson produced her driver’s license, and they sat on the side of the road while the officer ran it through the system. More than 10 minutes later, they said, he came back and issued Johnson two tickets: one for speeding and the other for not having insurance. 

“He’d asked me for insurance and I told him I couldn’t — I was in too much pain to search for it,” Johnson remembered.

Brokman looked for it but couldn’t find it, she said. 

The trooper finally let the two go, and Brokman took over driving. They made it to Jackson, and Johnson’s son was born around 9 a.m. — about two hours after the trooper had written her the ticket.

Criss Turnipseed, director of public affairs at the , said they have no official protocol as to how to handle medical emergencies, and it is “left to the Trooper’s discretion.” 

“Our first preference for those instances is always to call 911 first. There is no ‘official’ protocol for how a Trooper should proceed with someone claiming there is a medical emergency on a traffic stop other than based on his observations and the severity he is authorized to request an ambulance to the scene himself,” Turnipseed said in an emailed statement to Mississippi Today. 

Turnipseed said he had no comment on what happened to Johnson and Brokman. 

Now, more than three months later, Brokman and Johnson can’t help but think of all the things that could have gone wrong that day. They say they commonly hear stories about women in Yazoo City giving birth on the side of the road — like Johnson did in 2021 — and they were glad they made it to a hospital.

“My momma used to always tell me when I was young: ‘When you’re having a baby, you’re closer to death than you’ll ever be in your life,’” Brokman said. “Death is at your toes.”

That statement is especially true in Mississippi, which leads the nation in maternal and infant mortality. And it is even truer for Black women and babies, who are significantly more likely to die in childbirth than their white counterparts. 

The pregnancy-related mortality ratio was 33.2 deaths per 100,000 live births between 2013 and 2016 — nearly double the national average of 17.3 deaths per 100,000 births. 

The same is true for babies: the state has the highest rate of infant mortality in the nation, and the rate of death in Black infants is twice that of white babies. 

For Black women in Mississippi, the rate was about three times the rate of white women at 51.9 deaths. 

The state also has one of the highest rates of uninsured people in the country – a problem the March of Dimes report highlights when discussing the importance of quality care before having a baby, during pregnancy and after.

“Continuous high quality in all three time periods can lead to better health outcomes for both mom and baby,” the report states. “… Stalled progress to improve pregnancy outcomes has, in part, pointed towards inconsistent health interventions before pregnancy.” 

Greenwood Leflore Hospital, which permanently shuttered its labor and delivery unit as the hospital fights to cut costs and stay open, welcomed just over 2,000 babies into the world over the last five years. 

But now, any babies born at the hospital will be born in the emergency room, where interim CEO Gary Marchand said the hospital has relocated labor and delivery equipment. 

The closest hospital with labor and delivery services is in Grenada — a 45-minute drive or more for some in the area.

Providers and community members worry more women in Leflore County will have experiences like Johnson and Stuckey’s. Dr. Terry McMillin, an OB-GYN who has practiced in the Greenwood area for more than 20 years, said the closure of the unit is “devastating.” 

“In the short term, are you going to have potentially some bad outcomes? I can’t predict that, but certainly it only increases that likelihood,” he said.

The hospital now only has “limited obstetrical call available” — or several obstetricians who retained their privileges and can assist ER physicians if the situation warrants and they are available. 

“The March of Dimes report just illustrates that we have to find ways to provide access and health care to moms even in the midst of some of those maternity deserts, and having more and more labor and delivery units closing is just the wrong direction,” said Henderson, the head of the Mississippi pediatrician group.

The March of Dimes report ended with several policy recommendations, including expanding for individuals who make less than 138% of the federal poverty level, or about $30,000 annually for a family of three.  

Mississippi remains one of 12 states not to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act — and one of 21 states not to extend postpartum Medicaid coverage for new moms beyond 60 days to 6 months or a year, another recommendation of the report.

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

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

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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 state 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 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 ’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 Roe v. Wade 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 , defeated incumbent Steven Palazzo earlier this year in the Republican primary, DuPree, former mayor of Hattiesburg, also has run 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.

Health issues facing mothers and children in Mississippi

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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

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‘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

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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

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‘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 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

“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 Roe v. Wade decision,” she said. “Folks that have the money can have access to as health care, 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 Agency. 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 Mississippians 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

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

Mississippi law theoretically allows rape victims access to abortion, an exemption 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 , 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 Mississippi Center for Justice, 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 crime?

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.

5 reasons lawmakers might not want to restore the ballot initiative

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5 reasons lawmakers might not want to restore the ballot initiative

Mississippi is the only state in the modern era to rescind its initiative process that allowed voters to bypass the and place issues directly on the ballot.

In 2021 the Mississippi Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional the signature-gathering process as spelled out in the Constitution to place issues on the ballot. The ruling resulted in a initiative approved by voters in November 2020 and the entire initiative process being found to be invalid.

The Legislature could not agree during the 2022 session on language to revive the initiative process.

If the Legislature did restore the initiative, there would be at least five issues that could be the subject of initiative efforts. Those five issues, all opposed by many of the ’s political leaders, might be the reason legislators are reluctant to revive the initiative.

Those five initiatives would:

  • Expand .
  • Allow early .
  • Approve recreational marijuana.
  • Restore abortion rights.
  • Allow people convicted of felonies to regain their voting rights at some point after they complete their sentence.

No doubt, there are other issues that most likely would be the subject of initiative efforts if the process was restored. Generally, initiatives are undertaken when legislators refuse to act on issues, such as on medical marijuana recently and on voter identification in 2011.

Medical marijuana was being rejected by the Legislature as a whole. In 2011, one chamber of the Legislature – the Democratic-controlled House – was blocking the enactment of a voter ID requirement.

Just like with medical marijuana and voter ID, the five issues cited above are currently being blocked by key legislators.

Medicaid expansion

Mississippi is one of 12 states that have not expanded Medicaid to provide health insurance for primarily the working poor. The two biggest obstacles to Medicaid expansion have been House Speaker Philip Gunn and Gov. Tate Reeves, who argue the state cannot afford to cover Mississippi’s share of the costs. Various studies have concluded that the expansion would actually be a boon to state coffers since the federal government would pay the bulk of the costs.

Various diverse groups ranging from the Mississippi Hospital Association to the Delta Council have endorsed expansion.

Early voting

Despite the rhetoric of former President Donald Trump and many of his supporters bemoaning the evils of early voting, 46 states allow no excuse early voting and 27 permit voting by mail. And most states were allowing the various forms of early voting long before the 2020 election and the pandemic.

And truth be known, early voting has long been popular. Still, Reeves and other Mississippi politicians proudly proclaim they will block any effort to place Mississippi within the mainstream of states by enacting no excuse early voting.

Recreational marijuana

Like with early voting and Medicaid expansion, there was a recreational marijuana initiative being considered when the Mississippi Supreme Court shut down the initiative process.

And granted, it might be a long shot that Mississippi voters would approve recreational marijuana. But marijuana supporters in Arkansas garnered significantly more signatures than needed to place the issue on the November ballot.

If Arkansans approve or come close to approving recreational marijuana in November, that could be a sign that also are willing to consider the issue.

Felony suffrage

Mississippi is one of a few states (less than 10) that do not restore voting rights to people convicted of felonies at some point after they complete their sentence. The felony suffrage provision was incorporated into the 1890 Constitution by those attempting to prevent African Americans from voting.

Voters in Florida recently voted via ballot initiative to restore voting rights to people convicted of felonies.

Abortion rights

Granted, it has long been perceived that Mississippians as a whole are staunchly anti-abortion. But after the June ruling by the in the Mississippi decision – Dobbs v. – overturning and rescinding a national right to an abortion, there has been a hue and cry by some to let Mississippians vote on the issue. After all, people who support abortion rights figure they have nothing to lose since existing Mississippi laws ban most abortions.

And there are a few reasons to give abortion rights supporters hope. For instance, in Kansas, a conservative state like Mississippi, voters recently rejected an anti-abortion proposal at the ballot box.

In addition, when Mississippians voted on abortion in 2011, they overwhelmingly defeated the “Personhood” initiative that defined life as beginning at conception. Plus, recent polling indicates that a vote on abortion in Mississippi might be close.

But unless the Legislature restores the initiative, we may never know how Mississippians feel about these issues and others.

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

Should Mississippi, like Kansas, vote on abortion?

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Should Mississippi, like Kansas, vote on abortion? Would the outcome differ?

In Mississippi, like Kansas, the Supreme Court has said the Constitution provides a right to an .

The Kansas Supreme Court made its ruling in 2019. The Mississippi ruling came in 1998.

In an effort to supersede the Kansas Supreme Court ruling, the placed on the ballot a proposal to proclaim that the state Constitution does not include abortion rights.

That proposal was defeated Tuesday by Kansas voters by a 59% to 41% margin, meaning abortion remains legal in the state viewed as one of the most conservative in the nation.

Mississippi’s Supreme Court ruling said, “While we do not interpret our Constitution as recognizing an explicit right to an abortion, we believe that autonomous bodily integrity is protected under the right to privacy … Protected within the right of autonomous bodily integrity is an implicit right to have an abortion.”

There are two ways to reverse that 1998 Supreme Court ruling. The high court in a new case could overturn it. But since there is no abortion case pending before the Supreme Court, it is difficult to ascertain how such a reversal could occur. Another option would be to attempt what Kansas tried to do and amend the Constitution to state explicitly there is no right to an abortion. Like in Kansas, the proposal to amend the Constitution also would require voter approval.

The question then is whether the outcome in Mississippi would be different than in Kansas. Most observers were surprised that the anti-abortion proposal in Kansas was defeated. attorney Rob McDuff, who has defended abortion rights, said he is not so sure the outcome here would be different than in Kansas.

“Mississippi is a conservative state in many ways, but a lot of people here believe in the rights of the individual and believe government should not dictate a person’s beliefs,” McDuff said. “For centuries, people have debated and disagreed about the fundamental question of when life begins.”

McDuff continued: “When a woman is faced with the possibility of carrying a pregnancy inside her own body and bearing a child against her will, I think most believe this is a decision for her to make in light of her own beliefs, and perhaps in consultation with her family and her doctor and her pastor, and not a decision for the majority of the state Legislature. That is what Mississippians said the last time they were asked this question in 2011, when, by a wide margin, they voted no on an amendment that would have banned abortion for purposes of our state Constitution. I expect the answer would be the same today. Recent polling in Mississippi bears that out.”

A recent poll commissioned by the ACLU of Mississippi found 51% opposed the overturning of that provided a national right to an abortion.

In 2012, after Mississippi voters rejected the so-called “personhood” amendment that stated life begins at conception, Speaker Philip Gunn authored a resolution saying abortion was not a constitutional right. That resolution died in the House Constitution Committee. Had it been passed by a two-thirds vote of both legislative chambers and been approved by voters, it would have overturned the 1998 Supreme Court ruling saying the Mississippi Constitution granted the right to an abortion.

Gunn, who was in his first year as speaker in 2012, said recently he did not remember details about the proposal. When asked if the House might take up a similar proposal in the 2023 session, he said, “We are looking at a lot of things.”

Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves, ignoring the Supreme Court ruling, recently said, “I don’t think we need a constitutional amendment in Mississippi because we have a state statute which speaks to that. The only abortion clinic that operated in our state is now closed, I don’t know that it has to be in the Constitution.”

It’s true that laws banning most abortions in the state went into effect when the overturned the national constitutional right to an abortion in a landmark case from Mississippi. The practical effect of those laws is that abortions are not being performed in Mississippi.

But that 1998 decision hangs out there. At some point, there could be a conflict in the Mississippi judicial system between that constitutional right to an abortion as cited by the and the normally lesser-in-the-eyes of the judiciary laws or statutes.

At the very least, by ignoring that Supreme Court ruling, a precedent is being established in the state that the Mississippi Supreme Court can be — well, ignored.

A simple way to resolve the conflict between state law and the Mississippi Constitution is to let the people vote like they did in Kansas.

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

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