Background and Landscape
The Mississippi Legislature has a long history of efforts to restrict access to reproductive health care. Every year, members attempt to impede access to or outright ban abortion, and at times their efforts even target family planning and contraceptives. Rather than ensuring Mississippians have access to the resources and tools they need to thrive, legislators actively support bills that would negatively impact families.
Since 2012, both chambers of the Mississippi legislature have been under solid Republican control. With this new term, Republicans retained their supermajorities in both the House and Senate, meaning not a single vote from a Democrat is needed to pass legislation, including budget or appropriations bills requiring a 3/5 majority vote. Not surprisingly, over the last eight years, there has been an increase in the number of 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. The devastating impact of corporate tax cuts are looming, and significant budget cuts continue to impact state agencies.
2019 Statewide and Legislative Elections
For the first time, Planned Parenthood Southeast Advocates endorsed a candidate during the Mississippi General Election. Jennifer Riley Collins, Democratic nominee for Attorney General and former Executive Director of Mississippi American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) ran an amazing, grassroots campaign. Riley Collins is the first Black woman to be the Democratic Nominee for the office of the Attorney General in Mississippi. While Riley Collins did not win, she received the second-most votes of any candidate on the Democratic ticket running on a progressive platform that included support for a person’s bodily autonomy in decision making regarding abortion. The former Lieutenant Governor, Republican Tate Reeves, secured the Office of Governor with 52% of the vote. For the first time in years, Mississippi’s Democratic Party ran a highly competitive candidate in Jim Hood, the only Democrat to hold statewide office as the Attorney General. While some of the individual members changed, the number of members of each party remained the same in the House. In the Senate, four formerly Democratically held seats flipped to Republican members, and one Republican seat flipped to a Democratic. Mississippi’s statewide offices are now fully occupied by Republicans, with supermajorities in both chambers.
2020 Session Expectations
In 2018, we defeated 15 of the 16 bills seeking to negatively impact access to reproductive health care. One bill did pass, HB 1510, a 15-week abortion ban. After being enjoined in US District Court, the bill was appealed to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. In December 2019, the Fifth Circuit affirmed the US District Court ruling that Mississippi’s ban on abortion at 15 weeks is unconstitutional. “In an unbroken line dating to Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court’s abortion cases have established (and affirmed, and re-affirmed) a woman’s right to choose an abortion before viability,” the appeals court judges wrote. The Fifth Circuit is based in New Orleans and handles cases from Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas. It is one of the most conservative federal appellate courts. 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 SCOTUS make-up and the state-level anti-abortion trifecta, and with new Committee Chair appointments in the Mississippi State Legislature following the 2019 Mississippi Elections, we anticipate a difficult year. Although U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves, with the affirmation of the 5th Circuit Court, 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 the potential for additional 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 reproductive health care. In 2011, Mississippians voted clearly to keep politicians out of our health care decisions. Ultimately, any pregnancy decision, including 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 we have called out legislative attempts to restrict abortion access for what they are: efforts to restrict access to abortion by any means possible. In 2019, legislators completely dropped their facade of protecting women’s health. Ignoring Judge Reeves’ ruling that 2018’s abortion ban at 15 weeks "unequivocally" violates women's constitutional rights, legislators introduced multiple bans that would do the same at less than half the time -- approximately 6 weeks and ultimately passed SB 2116 after both the House and Senate membership voted down exceptions for rape and incest, largely along party lines. A challenge was filed within days, and rulings were issued on two motions argued in a May hearing in federal court. Those motions successfully amended an existing complaint before Judge Carlton Reeves to add the 6-week ban, and to request a preliminary injunction of the same. That litigation is pending, as are multiple bans around the country.
Medicaid and Medicaid Expansion
Affordable health care coverage is critical to Mississippians, and we continue to remind legislators that Medicaid expansion could extend additional coverage to many individuals of childbearing age in Mississippi. This could only mean positive changes for our dismal maternal and infant mortality rates. While no substantive efforts to push Medicaid expansion moved forward during the last legislative term with Reeves at the helm of the Senate, Lieutenant Governor Delbert Hosemann has voiced his support for Medicaid expansion, and the Mississippi Hospital Association is interested in these efforts as their reimbursements dwindle and rural hospitals close their doors.
With Alabama’s passage of an equal-pay law, and Mississippi’s failure to do so, we are the only state without state-level equal pay protections. Working closely with the Mississippi Women’s Economic Security Initiative and Mississippi Black Women’s Roundtable, we continue to support legislative efforts to pass a policy.
Education remains a priority issue for legislators and represents an issue where a split exists in the normal lock-step for the Republicans. Members in affluent areas with good school systems are very supportive of public education, and other Republican members are largely in support of vouchers to be used for private and charter schools.
Mississippi’s legislators should support a health care agenda that centers access to not just reproductive health care, but health care in general, ensuring residents have the information and services they need. Republicans have made it abundantly clear that this is not a priority. It is our job to continue to push for the needs of those we serve, ensuring access to health care, and working with our partners on intersectional issues that impact the lives of our patients and supporters. All the while we will continue to grow our power to leverage on behalf of the patients and communities we serve, and provide opportunities for those most impacted by these issues to participate in the legislative process.
How can you support the work of Planned Parenthood Southeast Advocates to protect access to reproductive and sexual health care?
For more information on Pink out the Halls, joining the Rapid Response Network, or making a contribution to support this work, contact:
Felicia Brown-Williams, Mississippi State Director: [email protected]
Tyler Harden, Mississippi Public Policy and Organizing Manager: [email protected]