The Mississippi Legislature has a long history of attempting to restrict access to reproductive health care. Every year, legislators introduce bills that would impede access to or outright ban abortion, and at times their efforts even target family planning and contraceptives. Rather than ensuring Mississippi’s children have access to the resources and tools they need to thrive, legislators actively support bills that would harm mothers and negatively impact families.
Since the 2015 elections, the Mississippi legislature has been under solid Republican control across both chambers. Since 2016, the Republican Supermajority in the House means that not a single vote from a Democrat is needed to pass budget or appropriations bills. Not surprisingly, there has been an increase in credible and widespread attacks on women and families, working people, the LGBTQ community, communities of color, and on Mississippians who stand at the intersections of those identities. Corporate tax cuts are looming, and significant budget cuts continue to impact state agencies.
2019 Session Expectations
In 2018, we defeated 15 of 16 bills that sought to negatively impact access to reproductive health care. The bill that did pass, HB 1510, is currently enjoined. In his decision, Judge Carlton Reeves states explicitly, “The record is clear: States may not ban abortions prior to viability; 15 weeks lmp [last menstrual period] is prior to viability; and plaintiffs provide abortion services to Mississippi residents after 15 weeks lmp. As the facts establish, the Act is unlawful.” The State is appearing this decision to the 5th Circuit. The litigation for HB 1510 includes an amended complaint that is on a separate litigation track. This complaint seeks to strike down Mississippi state laws that were invalidated by the Supreme Court’s Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt decision which found many similar Texas laws to be unconstitutional.
Given the new SCOTUS make-up and the state-level anti-abortion trifecta, and with Mississippi’s 2019 elections just a blink away, we anticipate a difficult year. Although U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves ruled that the 15-week abortion ban law "unequivocally" violates women's constitutional rights, we expect to see an onslaught of legislation attacking access to safe and legal abortion, including 6-12 week abortion bans. Other challenges include possible so-called medication abortion “reversal” bills and increased waiting periods.
Access to Safe and Legal Abortion
At Planned Parenthood, we know that access to safe and legal abortion is a critical part of the broad spectrum of reproductive health care that a woman may use in her lifetime. We also know that Mississippians do not want politicians involved in their health care decisions. Ultimately, the decision to choose adoption, end a pregnancy, or raise a child must be left to a person, their family and their faith, with the counsel of their doctor. For years, legislators have framed their language around protecting women. However, we see these attempts for what they are: efforts to restrict access to abortion by any means possible.
Medicaid and Medicaid Expansion
Affordable health care coverage is critical to the women and families we serve, and we will continue to our efforts to ensure all Mississippians have access to the care they need. The 2018 elections showed this to be a hot button issue and we anticipate this will continue in Mississippi. As 2019 elections are quickly approaching, we will watch closely during this critical year as the House Democrats make expansion a priority.
Mississippi is one of two states without state-level equal pay protections. This directly affects women and their ability to provide for their families. We will continue to work closely as part of the Mississippi Women’s Economic Security Initiative to push for a policy in Mississippi.
Education remains a priority issue for legislators, and education policy has a tremendous impact on families. We anticipate efforts to repeal the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, a law created and adopted by the Mississippi legislature in 1997 to ensure that education would be adequately funded. We expect to see this coupled with a push for “school choice,” which would allow public funding to be used for private and charter schools.
Mississippi’s legislators should support a health care agenda that centers prevention, ensuring residents have access to the information and services they need to stay healthy. Unfortunately, this is not a priority for leadership. Even with so many challenges, there is hope! A growing number of legislators are working to protect women and families under the dome. As the intersections between access to health care, education, economic security, and opportunity become more and more clear, we believe that more elected officials will work with us.
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