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Mississippi governor bans abortion at 20 weeks

Gov. Phil Bryant signed a bill into law this week that bans abortion halfway into a woman's pregnancy, without exception for rape or incest.
Gov. Phil Bryant at an event, Oct. 31, 2013, in Jackson, Miss.
Gov. Phil Bryant at an event, Oct. 31, 2013, in Jackson, Miss.

Republican Gov. Phil Bryant of Mississippi on Wednesday signed a bill that bans abortion at a minimum of 20 weeks of pregnancy, without exception for rape or incest.

The law, which takes effect on July 1, defines 20 weeks from the start of the woman's last menstrual period. It permits exceptions only for expecting mothers who experience medical emergencies or if the fetus suffers risk of not surviving.

The piece of legislation also requires a physician must determine the gestational age before attempting to perform an abortion. Failure to comply with the law could result in the revocation or restriction of a medical license.

"Medical research shows that an unborn child can feel pain by not later than 20 weeks gestation, and research also shows that the risk of death and complications from an abortion increases significantly as a pregnancy progresses," Bryant said Wednesday upon signing the bill.

A full-term pregnancy lasts 40 weeks. Unborn children can feel pain by 20 weeks after fertilization, according to the National Right to Life Committee, a key part of the right's strategy to undermine the controversial 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. But The Journal of the American Medical Association states fetal perception of pain is unlikely before the third trimester.

Pro-choice advocates have called the new law a "dangerous" and "unconstitutional" ban on abortion.

"With the women and families of their state facing extreme poverty, unacceptable rates of maternal mortality, and skyrocketing teen pregnancy, Mississippi's elected officials have more than enough real work to do to bolster women's well-being in their state," Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement. "It's time for these politicians to stop passing laws that attack constitutionally protected women's health care."

Courts in Idaho and Georgia recently blocked similar bills that ban abortion before viability. Additionally, the U.S. Supreme Court denied reviewing a decision that would permanently ban abortions in Arizona for women at 20 weeks of pregnancy. And just last week, a federal judge struck down the implementation of a law that would allow North Dakota to ban abortions after as early as six weeks.

Bryant previously said he aims to end abortion and close Jackson Women's Health Organization, the last remaining abortion clinic in the state. The clinic currently only provides services through 16 weeks of pregnancy, though, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights. Mississippi lawmakers in 2012 tried to close the establishment, which now remains in business under a federal court order.

The Supreme Court ruled in Roe v. Wade that states can intervene in a healthy woman's pregnancy only during the last trimester. Even with scientific advances, that period is no earlier than 24 weeks.