U.S. Supreme Court

Mississippi man convicted of murder and previously sentenced to death will now be paroled

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Mississippi man convicted of murder and previously sentenced to death will now be paroled

Those convicted of murder are not eligible for parole in Mississippi, but court rulings paved the way for a man previously sentenced to to receive parole and be scheduled for release.

Frederick Bell had been serving a sentence at the at Parchman for the May 1991 shooting of 21-year-old Robert “Bert” Bell (no relation) during a robbery in Grenada County. 

Capital murder typically carries the death penalty. But after years of appeals and filing for post-conviction relief, Frederick Bell was resentenced to life without parole and then life with the possibility of parole. He was approved for release by the state Parole Board in August and is set to leave prison as early as Monday. 

Family members of Bert Bell have been attending Parole Board meetings since 2015 and thought Frederick Bell wouldn’t be paroled, but last month Gene Bell, Bert’s younger brother, received a letter saying Frederick Bell’s parole had been approved, according to a copy shared with Mississippi Today. 

The family wants the Parole Board to reconsider. More than 50 community members from Grenada County and beyond have signed a petition addressed to Gov. Tate Reeves asking him to reverse the board’s decision. State law enforcement groups and residents have written to Parole Board Chair Jeffery Belk and board members. Several lawmakers have also spoken about Frederick Bell’s parole. 

“We should never parole a violent criminal,” Gene Bell wrote in a Thursday email to Mississippi Today. “That is not the way to reduce the population in the penal system and is certainly not the way to protect every law-abiding citizen in regards to our safety.”

Belk wrote to Gene Bell about the board’s decision to parole Frederick Bell, saying he understood it would be a disappointment to the family. 

In a previous interview with Mississippi Today, Belk said when considering parole, the board looks at a range of available information, including input from victims and their families and the person’s record while incarcerated, to make a decision. 

“However, in our opinion Bell has been rehabilitated and at this point we feel that parole supervision will be more beneficial than further incarceration,” Belk’s letter states. 

Belk and a spokesperson for the Mississippi Department of Corrections did not respond to a request for comment about Bell’s parole.

Bert Bell at his high school graduation.

On May 6, 1991, then-19-year-old Frederick Bell and a group of men went into Sparks Stop ‘N Go in Grenada County where 21-year-old Bert Bell was working. They bought chips and beer and went outside to eat, according to court records. 

Frederick Bell wanted to go to Memphis and said he needed money so he decided to rob the store, according to court records. He went back inside with one of the group members, Anthony Doss. Gunshots rang out from the store, and Bert Bell was shot nine times and killed. 

Later that day, Frederick Bell and three of the men from the group drove to Memphis, where Bell shot and killed another man, 20-year-old Tommy White. 

In 1993, the Grenada County Circuit Court convicted Frederick Bell and Doss for the killing of Bert Bell. A jury found Frederick Bell killed the store clerk, contemplated using lethal force during the robbery and intended to kill Bert Bell, which factored into its decision to impose the death penalty, according to court records.

Before the 1993 trial, Frederick Bell and another man from the group, Frank Coffey, were charged for the Memphis shooting and pleaded guilty, according to court records.

For years Frederick Bell sought to appeal his Mississippi conviction, including an unsuccessful direct appeal with the state Supreme Court in 1998, multiple filings for post-conviction relief and denied requests for the to take up his case. 

Gene Bell said it is a shame for anyone convicted of a violent to continue to appeal because victims and their families don’t get an opportunity to appeal any decisions made by the courts. 

In 2011, the state Supreme Court found Frederick Bell was entitled to an evidentiary hearing to determine whether he was mentally disabled. This was based on a 2002 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that found it was cruel and unusual to execute mentally disabled people.

Doctors at the Mississippi State Hospital evaluated Frederick Bell and determined he was mentally disabled.

As a result, in 2013 the Grenada County Circuit Court sentenced Bell to life without parole. He appealed, and in 2015 the State Supreme Court voted 5-4 in his favor. On June 5, 2015, the Grenada County Circuit Court sentenced him to life imprisonment with the possibility of parole. 

Gene Bell said his family was devastated to learn his brother’s killer was eligible for parole. He began attending Parole Board hearings in 2015 to speak against Frederick Bell’s release. 

“Do I like doing this? No,” Gene Bell said. “But it’s my duty. It’s my duty for my family and for the law abiding citizens of the great state of Mississippi.”

The family’s main concern is about public safety. Gene Bell said people shouldn’t have to fear the system has failed them by allowing someone who has committed violent crimes out of prison.

A person granted parole will serve the remainder of their sentence under supervision. They are required to report to a parole officer and follow rules laid out by the Mississippi Department of Corrections. 

Gene Bell said the current Parole Board did not indicate it would parole Frederick Bell. 

Rather, the board told him it would extend the time between Frederick Bell’s hearings from one year to up to five years. This would be done out of consideration for Bert Bell’s family. 

“(T)his was too brutal of a case for me and family to have to endure such a horrible date in history this often,” Gene Bell said. 

He doesn’t understand what changed this summer between the July meeting that felt positive and the August one when the board granted Frederick Bell parole. 

The Rev. C.J. Rhodes of Mount Helm Baptist Church in Jackson is President of Clergy for Prison Reform, which is focused on criminal justice issues including parole. 

Parole can be complicated and should be viewed on a case-by-case basis, he said. It should also consider those affected, including victims, their families, the incarcerated people and their families and community. 

The Christian faith recognizes redemption and how incarcerated people can be rehabilitated and demonstrate that after prison. 

“This becomes a test case if we want to apply that particular theology,” Rhodes said. 

The group wants to reimagine corrections in a way that doesn’t emphasize imprisoning people, he said. Rhodes said there is an opportunity to make victims and victimizers whole again, and redemption and rehabilitation shouldn’t be lost in conversation about criminal justice reform

Monday is Frederick Bell’s expected release date. Multiple efforts to reach an attorney for Frederick Bell were not successful. 

Sen. Angela Burks Hill (R-) said in an interview with Supertalk Radio that his release from prison is likely to be delayed because the Parole Board did not follow a state law that requires public notification in a newspaper in the county where the crime was committed.  

Gene Bell remembers his brother as a happy-go lucky person who enjoyed the outdoors and loved his family and friends. 

“We miss Bert tremendously,” Gene Bell said. “We often wonder what he would have become in life.  What would his brother- and sister- in-law think about him and what would his nieces and nephews think about him? How would we all interact as family?”

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 state 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 Legislature 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 appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Powerful writing on racism could inspire SCOTUS to hear Mississippi case

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This judge’s powerful writing on racism could inspire U.S. Supreme Court to hear Mississippi case

Editor’s note: This story contains graphic language. Also, you can read Judge James Graves’ complete dissent at the bottom of this story.

A dissent written by U.S. Court of Appeals Judge James Graves Jr. could play a key role in determining whether the will hear an appeal of a case that has, so far, upheld Mississippi’s Jim Crow-era constitutional provision written to keep Black people from .

Last month, the 5th U.S. Court of Appeals upheld a Mississippi constitutional provision that bans people convicted of certain felonies from voting. White leaders in Mississippi included most of those specific felonies in the state’s 1890 Constitution because they thought those crimes were more likely to be committed by African Americans.

Though attorneys challenging the provision in court say it has continued to disenfranchise Black Mississippians, a majority of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals did not agree. Following the appeals court’s ruling, plaintiff attorneys said they plan to appeal the lower court’s ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court. They have 90 days from the final verdict that was issued on Aug. 24 the file the appeal.

Graves, a Black man from Mississippi who was appointed to the federal appeals court in 2010, wrote a 47-page dissent that outlines the state’s long and disturbing history of racism and its impact on America.

Rob McDuff, an attorney with the who is working on the case, said Graves’ dissent could increase the odds the Supreme Court will take up the case.

“A strong dissent like that of Justice Graves’ can highlight for the Supreme Court that this is an important case where the Court of Appeals is sharply divided,” said McDuff, who has argued four cases before the nation’s highest court. “This increases the chances the Supreme Court will take the case although it’s no guarantee.”

READ MORE: 5th Circuit upholds Jim Crow-era law written to keep Black Mississippians from voting

A majority of the 17 members of the Court of Appeals that heard the case acknowledged that the felony suffrage provision, like many in the 1890 Constitution, was intended to prevent African Americans, then a majority in the state, from voting. That reality would be difficult to deny.

“The plan is to invest permanently the powers of government in the hands of the people who ought to have them: the white people,” James Zachariah George, a U.S. senator who was one of the architects of the 1890 Constitution and to this day has a statue in the U.S. Capitol representing Mississippi, said at the time.

But the nine members of the court who made up the majority in the recent ruling said that when state lawmakers added murder and rape as disenfranchising crimes in 1968, “the racial taint” was removed because the original 1890 language crafted by George and others had been amended.

“The critical issue here is not the intent behind Mississippi’s 1890 Constitution, but whether the reenactment of Section 241 (the felony disenfranchisement language) in 1968 was free of intentional racial discrimination,” the nine-member majority wrote.

The majority concluded it was.

“Mississippi (represented by the office of Lynn Fitch) has conclusively shown that any taint associated with Section 241 has been cured,” the majority wrote last month in an unsigned opinion.

But in his blistering dissent, Graves methodically wrote that the racial taint had not at all been removed by state lawmakers in the 1960s.

He pointed out that the Legislature did not reenact Section 241 in 1968; it simply passed a provision to include murder and rape as disenfranchising crimes. Section 241 would have remained in effect regardless of whether the amendment adding murder and rape was approved by voters.

And perhaps more importantly, Graves pointed out many of the people in the Legislature and indeed the electorate as a whole at that time had been engaged in preventing Black Mississippians from voting and from integrating schools and society. Many of those same people had been engaged in violence against African Americans.

Graves cited Tom Brady, a member of the in 1968. Graves pointed out Brady wrote in a book that was available in many Mississippi schools: “You can dress a chimpanzee, housebreak him, and teach him to use a knife and fork, but it will take countless generations of evolutionary development, if ever, before you can convince him that a caterpillar or cockroach is not a delicacy. Likewise the social, economic and religious preferences of the Negro remain close to the caterpillar and the cockroach.”

Graves, in his dissent, also pointed out that in the mid 20the Century while Mississippi lawmakers were removing a racial taint from its state Constitution, according to the majority ruling, white South African leaders were traveling to Mississippi “to learn how best to keep their own Black population disempowered and impoverished in perpetuity,” and earlier Nazi leader Adolph Hitler proclaimed the goal of making a conquered region “our Mississippi.”

Graves cited a passage from a 1960s newspaper article detailing efforts during school desegregation when Mississippians were, according to the Court’s majority opinion, removing the racial taint from the felony suffrage provision of the 1890 Constitution.

“Some husky young men were whipping a little Negro girl with pigtails,” the reporter wrote. “She was running. The men chased after her, whooping and leaping up and down like animals.”

The dissent was filled with such reports of violence and of loss of life for African Americans.

Graves, a Clinton native, was one of the first African American circuit judges in the state – appointed to the post in 1991 by then-Gov. Ray Mabus. In 2001, he was appointed to the state Supreme Court by then-Gov. Ronnie Musgrove. President Barack Obama appointed him to a slot on the federal Court of Appeals in 2010.

Graves, in his dissent, recalled his own upbringing and life in Mississippi.

“Recounting Mississippi’s history forces me to relive my experiences growing up in the Jim Crow era,” he wrote. “While I do not rely on those experiences in deciding this case, I would be less than candid if I did not admit that I recall them. Vividly.

“So I confess that I remember in 1963 a cross that was burned on my grandmother’s lawn two doors down from where I grew up,” he wrote.

Graves goes on to recount his experiences with school desegregation, and his disdain after being appointed to the judiciary of having to serve under the state that contained the battle emblem as part of its design.

Graves also highlights actions in 2020 by the Legislature to replace the flag. But after that historic achievement, he pointed out Mississippi to this day is the only state to recognize a Confederate Heritage Month, and while other states recognize Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Mississippi honors Confederate General Robert E. Lee on the same day.

“I recount these events, as a native Mississippian, only to highlight the importance of making the right decision in this case,” Graves wrote.

Read Judge Graves’ complete dissent below. His dissent begins on page 36.

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

Since the 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 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 , 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, Mississippians’ 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 police. 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 run if they want to.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This article first appeared 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 Legislature and place issues directly on the ballot.

In 2021 the 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 state’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 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 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 Mississippians 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.

Podcast: Sen. Boyd: Postpartum Medicaid extension support in Senate near unanimous

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Podcast: Sen. Boyd: Postpartum Medicaid extension support in Senate near unanimous

Nicole Akins Boyd, R-Oxford, a first-term state senator, talks with Mississippi Today’s Geoff Pender and Bobby Harrison about ways to improve the lives of mothers and children in light of the decision overturning . She is chairing the nine-member Senate Study Group on Women, Children and Families created by Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann.

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 state 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 Legislature 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 Mississippians 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 appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

In Mississippi, Christian forgiveness does not equate to felony voting reforms

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In Mississippi, Christian forgiveness does not equate to felony voting reforms

As Haley Barbour faced an onslaught of criticism for pardoning dozens of people convicted of felonies as his tenure as governor ended in 2012, he cited his Christian beliefs for his actions.

“Christianity teaches us forgiveness and second chances. I believe in second chances, and I try hard to be forgiving,” the former governor said soon after leaving office of the more than 200 acts of clemency he granted.

During his eight years as governor, Barbour, like most other Mississippi politicians, did nothing to make that forgiveness more inclusive by creating a system that would make it easier for the literally tens of thousands of people convicted of felonies to have their rights restored.

Most Mississippi politicians wear their Christianity on their sleeve. The primary tenet of the Christian faith is forgiveness and redemption. Yet, they do not see as part of that forgiveness and redemption the restoration of voting rights for people convicted of felonies.

Multiple studies have made the argument that restoring voting rights increases the odds that people who have been convicted of felonies will become productive members of society.

Dennis Hopkins, a 46-year-old Potts Camp resident who lost his right to vote as a teenager when he was convicted of grand larceny, but is now a productive member of the community in the north Mississippi hamlet, explained to lawmakers the importance of voting.

“Voting to me is everything,” Hopkins said in 2021 during a legislative hearing. “I tell my kids how important the vote is … it shames me to tell them I can’t vote.”

The old adage that the judicial system moves slowly has never been truer than when it comes to Mississippi’s one-in-the-nation system of preventing people convicted of certain felonies from regaining their voting rights.

On Sept. 25, 2021 (more than 10 months ago), the entire panel of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments about whether Mississippi’s felony disenfranchisement is unconstitutional. Seventeen judges heard the argument at the federal courthouse in New Orleans. It is not an everyday occurrence for the entire panel to hear oral arguments, so the assumption was that the federal appeals court was placing a priority on the issue.

But since that September day, there have been crickets from the court.

At some point, the court finally will issue a ruling.

In Mississippi, people with felony convictions must petition the Legislature to get a bill passed by a two-thirds majority of both chambers to regain voting rights. Normally only a handful (less than five) of such bills are successful each session. There is also the option of the governor granting a pardon to restore voting rights. But no governor has granted pardons since Barbour in 2012.

For a subset of those who lose their rights, the courts can expunge their record. In some instances that expungement includes the restoration of voting rights and for others it does not. It just depends on the preference of the judge granting the expungement.

During the 2022 session, legislation was passed clarifying that the judicial expungement would always include the restoration of voting rights. That modest legislation would have been the biggest change to the state’s felony voting system since it was incorporated into the Mississippi Constitution in 1890. But it was vetoed by Gov. Tate Reeves.

The in past decisions has given the states broad leeway in stripping the right to vote for those convicted of felonies. But it is worth pointing out that Mississippi is in a distinct minority of states (less than 10) not automatically restoring voting rights at some point after a sentence is completed.

The aforementioned 5th Circuit is considering the argument that the Mississippi felony voting ban is unconstitutional because it was placed in the 1890 state Constitution as one of many provisions intended to prevent African Americans from voting. If it was done for racial reasons, then it should be unconstitutional, the proponents of the argue. Mississippi Lynn Fitch opposes the lawsuit.

In the 1890s, the wrote the disfranchisement of people of specific felonies was placed in the Constitution “to obstruct the exercise of the franchise by the negro race” by targeting “the offenses to which its weaker members were prone.” The crimes selected by lawmakers to go into the provision were thought by the white political leaders at the time as more likely to be committed by African Americans. They also imposed poll taxes, literacy tests, segregated schools, a ban of mixed race marriages and other racist provisions into the Constitution.

They, of course, took all of those steps in the name of Christianity.

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

GOP politicians embrace God, shun Medicaid postpartum coverage

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GOP politicians embrace God but shun Medicaid postpartum coverage at Neshoba

NESHOBA COUNTY FAIR — Lynn Fitch told Neshoba County fairgoers that God chose a Mississippi case to be the catalyst to overturn the national right to an .

“God selected us,” Fitch said on Thursday, referring to the Supreme Court decision in late June overturning . “We were chosen to go before the United States Supreme Court.

“God selected the Mississippi case. God put us in this position.”

Numerous politicians on Thursday during the second day of the political speakings on a hot and humid day at the historic Neshoba County Fair evoked God, particularly as it related to the Mississippi abortion case, Dobbs v. . That landmark case, argued before the by Fitch’s office, led to the overturning of a national right to an abortion. Fitch received a rousing ovation at the end of her speech under the tin-roof Founders Square Pavilion.

Fitch and multiple other statewide officials who spoke at the Neshoba County Fair said their next focus is to ensure the mothers and children impacted by the reversal of Roe v. Wade have the support they need.

But they offered few specifics. Even before the reversal of Roe, the state already had the nation’s highest infant mortality rate and the most children per capita living in poverty.

Gov. Tate Reeves and House Speaker Philip Gunn pointed out that the Legislature provided $3.5 million in tax credits to help support 37 pregnancy crisis centers across the state. Both Gunn and Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann, who presides over the Senate, have formed or will form special committees to further study the issue. They have referenced continuing efforts to improve the state’s long-beleaguered foster care system and said changes in law are needed to make adoptions easier.

But other than Hosemann, no officeholder has endorsed any specific policy that would accomplish the shared goal of helping mothers and children. Earlier this year, Hosemann was among several Senate Republicans who supported extending coverage for one year for mothers after giving birth. According to Reeves, 70% of all women giving birth in Mississippi are on Medicaid, but under state law that coverage only lasts 60 days.

When asked about whether the state should expand postpartum coverage on Thursday, Fitch at first mistakenly responded that she couldn’t talk about the issue because it was “pending litigation.” After it was pointed out that no pending litigation existed on the topic, she then said her office would not push for the policy change, but would uphold whatever law may be passed in the future by lawmakers.

House Speaker Philip Gunn said he would consider providing postpartum coverage if the Division of Medicaid, overseen by Reeves, said it was needed.

Reeves did not answer when asked after his fiery speech whether he would support expanding postpartum coverage.

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

Andy Gipson, the commissioner of Department of Agriculture and Commerce, previously served in the state House and played a key role in passing the law that led to the overturning of Roe v. Wade.

When asked after his speech whether he would support an expansion of postpartum coverage, Gipson said he supported private insurance. When it was pointed out that Mississippi had the nation’s highest infant mortality rate, Gipson’s wife, Leslie, who was listening, offered the possibility of a correlation between the high infant mortality rate and the state’s vaccine mandates for infants.

“It is worth looking at,” Gipson concurred, declining to cite any scientific data that suggests such a correlation exists. Gipson, who said he intends to run for re-election, touted what he said was the state’s conservative principles.

Gipson, Gunn and Reeves spoke of national Democrats trying to replace God with their liberal agenda.

“We will never stop fighting for our traditional values,” Reeves said. “We will never stop fighting for our way of life.”

Reeves said national liberal Democrats are working to “have drag shows and teach ” in the . He was referencing the efforts on the national level to ensure people with different sexual identities or orientations are not discriminated against and of efforts in some schools to teach the impact racism has had on the history of the country.

Among the accomplishments that Gunn cited for the House under his Republican leadership was legislation enacted into law to give businesses the right not to serve same sex couples based on religious principles.

They also took aim at people who they claimed were not working and were receiving taxpayer dollars.

“We believe all able-bodied folks ought to get off the couch and go to work,” Gipson said to rousing applause. He said taxpayers should not subsidize people who will not work.

“This is why we oppose Medicaid expansion,” said Gipson, ignoring studies that indicate most of the people who receive coverage — and no cash benefits — from Medicaid expansion are the working poor.

Of course, those nuances were not addressed Thursday at the Neshoba County Fair, where both the political speeches and the weather were hot.

READ MORE: After lawmakers go home without extending postpartum Medicaid, six moms speak out

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

Doctors fear abortion laws will tie their hands as patients suffer

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‘Huge gray zone’: Mississippi doctors fear new abortion laws will tie their hands as pregnant patients suffer

Dr. Nina Ragunanthan wonders exactly how long she’s supposed to watch a miscarrying woman bleed before Mississippi law permits her to perform an

The OB/GYN in the Delta worries that the state’s new laws — banning abortion “except in the case where necessary for the preservation of the mother’s life or where the pregnancy was caused by rape” — could force doctors to wait for patients to deteriorate before providing life-saving care. She wonders: Who decides when the patient’s life is in danger, and how imminent does the danger have to be? 

“Does it have to be that she’s going to die in 30 minutes if we don’t do this?” Ragunanthan said. “That she’s at risk of dying within 24 hours? How much are we going to let her bleed? Do we have to wait until she needs a blood transfusion, start transfusing the blood, then do an abortion? … Am I going to be at legal risk for saving someone’s life if a court decides the risk to life wasn’t imminent enough to justify (an abortion)?”

These questions — and many others — haven’t been answered by state officials, law enforcement officers, hospital leadership or judges. And some OB/GYNs worry the lack of clarity will have a chilling effect on physicians who will either delay or refuse to perform abortions for fear of legal repercussions. If a doctor’s decision is challenged and they wind up on trial for performing an allegedly illegal abortion, they face up to 10 years in prison. 

Two of the workers interviewed by Mississippi Today spoke on the condition of anonymity because they fear backlash or even legal scrutiny for discussing a highly sensitive topic. 

Marc Rolph, a spokesman for the , said the hospital won’t comment on any questions related to the state’s new abortion laws and how its doctors will implement them. UMMC is home to the state’s largest group of maternal-fetal medicine subspecialists, and OB/GYNs around the state, like Ragunanthan, frequently refer patients with high-risk pregnancies there. Some UMMC doctors reached by Mississippi Today said they had been instructed not to speak to media about anything related to abortion.

None of the medical professionals interviewed by Mississippi Today said they had received any guidance from their employers as to how to interpret the new laws. 

“Have I read a sheet of paper that tells me what to do in the middle of the night when I’m on call?” one Jackson-area OB/GYN said. “No, there’s not that. You’re probably going to need approval if you’re facing a difficult decision, particularly with the exceptions in the law.” 

Mississippi Department of Health spokeswoman Liz Sharlot said the agency could not answer any questions dealing with the impact of the state’s abortion laws in the wake of the Dobbs ruling. She referred questions to the ’s office, though on Tuesday all pending litigation ended when the state’s last abortion clinic dropped its lawsuit that sought to prevent the ban from taking effect.

Questions sent to the office of Attorney General Lynn Fitch, who argued on the state’s behalf that the overturn Roe, were not answered.

The Mississippi State Board of Medical Licensure executive director Dr. Kenneth Cleveland said the board does not currently have plans to issue any statements about abortion issues in Mississippi. The board has the authority to investigate physicians and revoke their licenses for performing illegal abortions. 

Anti-abortion advocates, lawmakers and some doctors say that the exception gives physicians the discretion to determine when an abortion is necessary. They point out that most of the roughly 2,500 abortions performed annually in Mississippi prior to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Dobbs v. were elective. They say that doctors already regularly make weighty choices in high-pressure situations.

“I don’t see that these decisions have changed with this law,” said Dr. Geri Weiland, president of the Mississippi State Medical Association and a Vicksburg pediatrician. “I really don’t. I think the decisions have always been difficult.”

Dr. Terry McMillin, an OB/GYN in Greenwood, describes himself as pro-life. He doesn’t foresee the new abortion restrictions changing his practice at all. This week, he removed an ectopic pregnancy just as he always has, with no extra calls to attorneys or administrators. 

He generally refers patients with high-risk pregnancies to UMMC early on. In other complex situations, like labor beginning before viability, he counsels patients about what to expect and monitors them carefully for signs of danger. Those situations, and others where an abortion could be necessary to save the pregnant person’s life, are rare, he said.

“A lot of times I’m gonna put it in the hands of the creator, because I believe there is a God, and I believe in the providence of God, that everything happens for a reason and that he’s in control of it all, so I think we should give life a chance, if we can,” he said. 

Richard Roberson, vice president of state policy at the Mississippi Hospital Association, said the organization had been fielding questions from members about compliance with the new laws, but that decisions will largely be made by medical staff on a case-by-case basis. Clarification from lawmakers or through the courts would be helpful, he said. 

“It’s hard to issue specific guidance on a very non-specific law,” he said, referring to what hospital administrators might be able to provide their staff at this point. 

Even so, he doesn’t expect doctors or patients to be at risk of legal or medical consequences: Physicians have always sought to protect maternal and fetal health in complicated situations, and he doesn’t see that changing. 

But some doctors aren’t reassured. 

The Jackson-area OB/GYN said that life-threatening conditions during pregnancy often occur on a spectrum and can develop over time; they’re not always an obvious catastrophe like an ectopic pregnancy that could rupture and cause internal bleeding. For example, a patient with serious pre-existing heart problems will likely be stable early in a pregnancy but have a high risk of developing life-threatening symptoms as the pregnancy progresses. 

Before, the doctor routinely presented the option of early termination. Now, the OB/GYN said, “that discussion has been taken out of our hands as clinicians.”

“There’s a huge gray zone which leaves people at risk and providers possibly confused,” she said.

Doctors also expect that even though the law permits abortions in cases of rape, no one in the state will be willing to do the procedure under those circumstances, fearing potential prison time or costly lawsuits. 

“I don’t think people in Mississippi can have comfort around, ‘Oh, if I’m raped, I will have access,’” the Jackson-area OB/GYN said. “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.”

The people who wrote the laws that now dictate decisions in every hospital around the state don’t seem to understand pregnancy, doctors told Mississippi Today.

“The situation is far too complex for a statute,” said one women’s health care provider. “It needs to be between the doctor and the patient.”

The Jackson Women’s Health Organization was for years the only facility in the state that provided elective abortions. Before the Supreme Court overturned in June, Mississippi doctors generally sent patients there or to clinics in other states for non-emergency procedures. 

In emergencies, however, doctors at hospitals around the state have terminated pregnancies to protect their patients. Though the law still technically permits that, the language “in the case where necessary for the preservation of the mother’s life” isn’t a clear medical standard. 

Mississippi OB/GYNs interviewed by Mississippi Today listed a range of scenarios in which a patient’s life is clearly at risk, but maybe not enough risk to pass muster under the law.

Up to about 30% of all pregnancies end in miscarriage, and some people experience heavy bleeding. One potential treatment is a dilation & curettage (D&C) to remove the tissue from the uterus. Ragunanthan said that if the fetus still has cardiac activity, the procedure is an abortion, though there’s no chance of a live birth. Facing legal uncertainty, Ragunanthan worries doctors may stand by as the patient bleeds and potentially requires a blood transfusion. 

In other states, miscarrying people have already reported being denied care and sent home to wait.

“I work in a rural hospital where – it’s not like a major trauma center, we don’t have a huge blood bank, and so things like that scare me,” Ragunanthan said. 

She described another scenario: If a woman’s water breaks before viability, which occurs around 24 weeks of pregnancy, the fetus has a very low chance of survival because its lungs cannot develop without amniotic fluid. The woman then has a high risk of infection, but the fetus may still have cardiac activity. 

As part of the ongoing legal battle over Louisiana’s trigger ban, a New Orleans doctor filed an affidavit describing how after a patient’s water broke at 16 weeks, the doctor planned to perform a dilation and evacuation (D&E) to end the nonviable pregnancy. Then her hospital’s lawyers told her that wasn’t legal. 

Louisiana’s ban – which had briefly gone into effect before a judge issued a temporary restraining order while the court challenge plays out – includes an exemption for “medically futile” pregnancies that could apply in such cases (though the state health department has not issued a list explaining what situations that includes). Mississippi’s law has no such exemption.

“What are you supposed to do?” Ragunanthan said. “Are you supposed to wait until she becomes infected? … Do you have to wait until it gets into the bloodstream?”

For people with pulmonary hypertension, becoming pregnant carries a roughly 30 to 56% risk of death. The women’s health care provider who spoke to Mississippi Today said she wasn’t sure what the law would permit in such a case.

“It feels like to me, the laws are written for – ‘Well, there’s that chance that everything will be OK,’” she said. “A lot of times it’s just not.”

The Jackson-area OB/GYN said she thinks the onus to explain how to apply the new laws at the bedside falls on lawmakers, regulators and law enforcement. 

“I need their help on what they will choose to prosecute and what they won’t,” she said

So far, none of them have offered any guidance, though two Mississippi DAs have said they won’t prosecute people for abortions.

Sen. Joey Fillingane, R-Sumrall, principal author of the trigger ban, said he thinks doctors will do what they need to do to save a patient’s life. If a doctor’s decision is called into question and criminally investigated, he said he expects they would have documentation to show they had acted in accordance with the law. 

“I mean, I didn’t go to med school, so I’m not going to sit here and armchair quarterback what a bunch of OB/GYNs will be deciding, whether this specific case is sufficient to qualify,” he said. “That’s why we meet every session. We can certainly revisit that law and add more flesh to the bone.”

Weiland, the head of the state medical association, said she doesn’t expect to see doctors being investigated and prosecuted for making good-faith decisions. 

“Mississippians are very fair people,” she said. “I don’t see the state supporting doctors being prosecuted for doing what we’ve been doing, taking care of moms and complications of pregnancies forever. That’s what we do … Maybe I’m being too optimistic about it. But I personally don’t see that being something that’s supported by this law.”

Mississippi Today community health editor Kate Royals contributed to this story.

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

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