JACKSON, Miss. – Gov. Phil Bryant signed one of the strictest abortion-ban proposals into law at a Thursday morning ceremony at the Mississippi State Capitol.
Senate Bill 2116 would outlaw abortion when a fetal heartbeat is detected, which comes about six weeks into pregnancy.
"We think this is showing the profound respect and desire of Mississippians to protect the sanctity of that unborn life whenever possible," Bryant said of the legislation. "It also protects, we believe, the physical and mental health of the mother. We here in Mississippi believe in protecting and defending the whole life of that child."
The law is certain to be challenged in court, however, a move likely to prevent it from taking effect July 1. A federal judge blocked a similar law in Kentucky last week.
Here's what you need to know about the new law.
1. What does the legislation do?
It outlaws abortion after a fetal heartbeat can be detected, which is usually around six to nine weeks into a pregnancy — sometimes, before a woman even knows she is pregnant.
It provides an exception if the pregnancy threatens a woman's life or would cause serious injury, though there is no exception in the case of incest or rape. Doctors who perform an abortion after a heartbeat is detected could see their license suspended or face other discipline.
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2. Will it be challenged in court?
Even Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, who backs the new law, acknowledged as much Thursday, saying, "I'm sure that's going to happen. And that's OK." He pledged the state would fight back in court.
The New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights this week called the legislation unconstitutional and promised to sue.
"The term 'heartbeat bill' is a manipulative misnomer," the organization tweeted Wednesday. "These bills actually rob women of their choice to have an abortion before they even know they’re pregnant."
Bryant responded on Twitter: "We will all answer to the good Lord one day. I will say in this instance, ‘I fought for the lives of innocent babies, even under the threat of legal action.'"
The American Civil Liberties Union sued when a similar bill was signed into law by Republican Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin last week, and a federal judge blocked it from taking effect.
We will all answer to the good Lord one day. I will say in this instance, “I fought for the lives of innocent babies, even under threat of legal action.” https://t.co/4bHEmCqN74— Phil Bryant (@PhilBryantMS) March 20, 2019
3. If the law will likely be halted, why are Mississippi and other states pushing the bans?
Republican-controlled legislatures in several states have pushed the same general heartbeat ban bills in recent months. They hope a case could get to the U.S. Supreme Court that would overturn the landmark 1973 ruling, Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion and put limits on how early in a pregnancy it could be outlawed. The Supreme Court has a new conservative majority, which some view as favorable to such a major shift.
In Mississippi, the measure has endured heated debate in both chambers, mostly on party lines. Democrats have often criticized Republicans backing the bill as bringing it up because it's an election year.
4. What else did Bryant say about the ban on Thursday?
"The heartbeat has been the universal hallmark of life since man's very beginning," the governor said. "It starts with the child from six to nine months. I can remember the exciting moments both with my children and grandchildren ... when that heartbeat could be heard.
"The celebration is often turned into tragedy when the child's life is taken. We're going to try and protect that child whenever we can."
Bryant later added that he and other Republicans were "haunted by the hundreds of thousands of babies that are murdered across the nation" every year.
5. What do critics say about the legislation?
A primary criticism is that it will waste taxpayer money defending something that will likely be found unconstitutional and not take effect. Democrats said it was Republicans pandering in an election year.
State legislators last year already passed among the strictest abortion laws in the country, a ban after 15 weeks. And it was halted by a federal judge, who later found it to "unequivocally" violate women's constitutional rights. The state has continued to spend money to fight the case in court.
Reeves appeared to anticipate that criticism Thursday, talking up his "record of fiscal responsibility." He said he would have "absolutely no problem supporting strongly whatever it costs to defend this lawsuit, because I care about unborn children."
Others point out legislators should be focused on improving Mississippi's infant-mortality rate — which ranks worst in the nation — if they have deeply held beliefs about children's sanctity of life. Bryant also appeared to expect that criticism, mentioning he'd asked the state auditor earlier this year to examine $4 billion in federal and state funds spent on child services in the state to see if it could "increase the effectiveness in that."
"It is worth it," Bryant said of the ban. "I think the attorney general will carry that fight to the courts."
Follow Luke Ramseth on Twitter: @lramseth
This article originally appeared on Mississippi Clarion Ledger: Mississippi governor signs 'heartbeat' abortion ban into law. Here's what you need to know