Mississippi women lawmakers want more holistic pro-life policies next session

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Jun. 30—Nearly every Republican politician in Mississippi has praised the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade and eliminating a person's constitutional right to seek an abortion, but there's no clear vision among those same leaders on what the next pro-life goals should be.

But Mississippi has extreme problems with poverty, leads the nation in infant and maternal mortality rates, leaves swaths of the population without access to an OB-GYN, and does not have a robust system of child care assistance.

If state lawmakers don't try and improve those metrics combined with, presumably, more Mississippians carrying pregnancies to term, real lives could be on the line in the state with the lowest per capita rate of physicians.

Hours after the Court handed down the historic ruling, House Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, announced that he was forming a commission that would recommend policy proposals for "new challenges and opportunities" the state will face with a likely increase in the number of births.

It's unclear exactly who will serve on the committee, but Gunn said it would be composed of policy experts, House members, medical professionals, adoption agencies, child pregnancy center officials and people "who have a passion for the sanctity of life."

It's also unclear how exactly this commission would determine which policies the House should consider during the 2023 legislative session, but the speaker in a tweet suggested they could explore improvements to foster care, more affordable adoption and better enforcement of child support payments.

The speaker has been a critical opponent of expanding Medicaid coverage to the working poor and giving poor mothers in the state more postpartum Medicaid coverage — policies that medical leaders have endorsed.

When asked if his commission would entertain any type of Medicaid expansion or enhancement, Gunn said he would leave that decision up to the commission members, but reiterated he currently remains opposed to the policy proposals.

Ironically, Rep. Becky Currie, R-Brookhaven, who introduced the bill that led to the Supreme Court eliminating abortion rights, also thinks House Republicans should give mothers more healthcare tools like postpartum coverage and access to contraceptives.

"We have to do a better job of making sure people have what they need," Currie bluntly said. "If somebody wants birth control, they should have access to it."

Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann also announced that he was forming a commission to study the next policy items the Senate should consider to improve health outcomes for mothers and young children.

Hosemann named Sen. Nicole Boyd, R-Oxford, to lead the committee's work. Boyd, a lawmaker who has built a reputation for consensus-building, said the Senate committee needs to take a "comprehensive approach" to mapping out what the next chapter of the pro-life agenda should be.

Boyd, a freshman lawmaker, said she wants to invite experts to testify about job opportunities for mothers, affordable childcare and early intervention programs for children.

"The reason that we have to comprehensively look at this is we need to be as systemic as possible in our approach," Boyd said. "We lead the country in the wrong direction when it comes to early childhood metrics."

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taylor.vance@djournal.com