(Photo: REUTERS/Regis Duvignau)
The Mississippi Senate on Tuesday unanimously agreed to a last-minute change on an abortion regulation bill that would ban abortion at 18 weeks gestation, rather than 20 weeks after conception.
Originally passed in the state House on Feb. 13 as a law that would ban abortion at or after 20 weeks of conception, lawmakers in the upper chamber changed the bill to calculate a pregnancy from the date when a woman's last menstrual period ended, instead of when an embryo implants itself in a woman's uterus, according to The Associated Press.
"Gestational age is actually two weeks earlier than post-conception age," Felicia Brown-Williams, a lobbyist for Planned Parenthood Southeast, told AP.
Sen. Joey Fillingane (R-Sumrall) said pro-life groups had expressed concerns that the previous language could allow abortions past 20 weeks, using the post-conception age definition.
This change, however, will have to gain unanimous support in a House and Senate conference before it could become law.
House lawmakers passed the bill to ban abortions at or after 20 weeks of conception last month by a vote of 89-22.
Rep. Andy Gipson (R-Braxton), author of HB1400 who believes the bill would ban abortion at the fetal pain stage, told ABC News 10 that banning abortion after the fifth month of pregnancy is also in the best interest of pregnant women who face greater health risks, and even death, by undergoing late-term abortion procedures.
Gipson added, "At five months an unborn child can live outside the womb. Under Mississippi law, if they're born prematurely, there are ethical obligations for physicians to resuscitate that child."
"What we found in our health department records is that there were 529 abortions done last year of unknown gestational age, and at least 24 were up-to 20 weeks gestation, and at least one was over 20 weeks gestation. … Medical evidence shows that the unborn, at this age, can feel pain, which we believe is inhumane, " he said.
Gipson also noted that the bill does provide exceptions for women who must undergo a later-term abortion, such as in cases where the mother faces a medical emergency that would lead to the termination of her pregnancy, or in cases where physicians have determined that a baby will not survive, even with medical treatment. Abortionists who choose to defy the law could lose their medical license.
An amendment introduced by Sen. Derrick Simmons (D-Greenville), to expand exceptions to women who don't know that they're pregnant at or after the fifth month of pregnancy, and became pregnant as a result of rape or incest, failed by a voice vote.
In an interview with ABC News 10, Fillingane commented that Mississippi is simply catching up with surrounding states that have already passed similar regulations on abortion.
"The bill is nothing unique to Mississippi," he said, citing Texas' 20 week abortion ban. "It's more than five months into the gestational age of the child, so it's not as though people who choose to have abortions don't have plenty of opportunity during the first four-and-a-half to five months of pregnancy. It's much safer for the woman and much less intrusive."
Mississippi recorded 2,176 abortions in 2012, the latest year for which the state Department of Health made figures available, according to Reuters. Eleven of the documented abortions occurred between the 16th and 20th weeks of gestation, and two after 20 weeks.