JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Lawmakers say a bill that passed the Mississippi House on Tuesday could lead to criminal prosecutions of anyone who performs an abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected.
The abortion restriction was added to Senate Bill 2771, which would set a prison sentence of up to 30 years for anyone convicted of child homicide. The killer would have to be at least 21 years old, and the victim would have to be younger than 18.
House Judiciary B Committee Chairman Andy Gipson, R-Braxton, sponsored the fetal heartbeat amendment, saying it would protect innocent life. Tuesday's amendment revived, in slightly different form, Gipson's earlier effort to outlaw abortion after a fetal heartbeat was detected. That passed the House but died in a Senate committee last week.
Detecting a heartbeat in the early stages of pregnancy can require an invasive transvaginal ultrasound.
Gipson told House members they faced "the choice of life versus death" with his amendment.
"I am not God, but I serve a God who says life is in the blood. And this bill will protect those lives," Gipson said.
Rep. Adrienne Wooten, D-Jackson said the government shouldn't interfere in medical decisions made by women, their husbands and their doctors.
"How dare you say that a person who has to make such a moral decision about whether or not they want to bring a child into the world, that 'You should face criminal penalties,'" Wooten said.
The bill would still allow elective abortions if no fetal heartbeat is found, or in cases of alleged rape or incest, or if the pregnant woman's life is in danger. But, Rep. Cecil Brown, D-Jackson, said it would not allow an abortion if a woman faced physical or mental harm, short of the threat of imminent death.
He said a woman in his district told him several years ago that during her first pregnancy, her doctor told her and her husband that the baby wouldn't live and that if she carried the pregnancy to term, she would likely become infertile. The woman said she and her husband decided abortion was the best option, Brown said.
Even as he told the House about this case, Brown said he opposes abortion and he voted for Gipson's amendment.
The amendment passed 76-39, with six members not voting and one absent. The bill then passed 83-34, with four not voting and one absent.
It was held for more possible House debate, but it appears unlikely that opponents will gather enough votes to defeat it. Because the House amended it, the bill would go back to the Senate for more work once the procedural hold is removed.
Rep. Alyce Clarke, D-Jackson, said that only women of childbearing age should be able to vote on abortion bills because they're the ones most affected by the proposals. She also said Mississippi has a record of failing to provide proper education, health care or other services to children once they're born.
"If you're going to do this, you should also be willing to take care of the baby from the womb to the tomb," Clarke said. "But we aren't willing to do that."
Rep. Tracy Arnold, R-Booneville, told the House that as a "pastor of the gospel of Jesus Christ," he has counseled women who've cried in his office as they told him they regretted having an abortion.
"Raising a child is certainly an easier responsibility than bearing the weight of knowing you have taken the life of an innocent, unborn child," Arnold said.
In last November's general election, 58 percent of Mississippi voters rejected a proposed constitutional amendment that would've defined life as beginning when a human egg is fertilized. Wooten likened Gipson's "heartbeat" proposal to the failed ballot initiative and said it was being disrespectful to try to push his idea into law.