Bill would expand abortion restrictions

Published 12:01 am Friday, March 28, 2008

JACKSON (AP) — Pressured by a flurry of e-mail from social conservatives, the Mississippi House passed an anti-abortion bill Thursday even though many lawmakers acknowledged they had little clue about what they were supporting.

The bill may never make it to the governor.

It was held on a procedural move that could allow more debate. And the decision about bringing the bill up for debate rests with Judiciary B Committee Chairman Willie Bailey, who was thwarted Thursday as he sought a final round of House-Senate negotiations on the bill.

If Bailey chooses to ignore the bill, it will die on the House calendar when the session ends April 19.

The legislation started as a way to put penalties on people for making false reports of child abuse. Last week, the Senate added eight pages of provisions that say, among other things, a person could be sued for helping an underage girl get an abortion in Mississippi without her parents’ or guardians’ consent.

Republican Rep. Philip Gunn of Clinton said during a debate Thursday that he did not fully understand what the Senate had added. But he urged the House to pass the bill because anti-abortion groups were pushing it.

‘‘This is your opportunity to express your opinion on abortion and the scourge it brings into society,’’ Gunn said.

On its Web site, the Tupelo-based American Family Association had an ‘‘Action Alert’’ in which AFA Founder and Chairman Donald Wildmon asked people to call or e-mail House members and ‘‘politely but firmly’’ urge the lawmakers to support the bill.

People could type in their ZIP code and the AFA Web site would generate an e-mail message to the area lawmaker. Several lawmakers said they received dozens of copies of nearly identical, mass-generated e-mails in support of the bill.

During the 2007 elections, Wildmon gave his personal endorsement to Republican Phil Bryant, who is now lieutenant governor and presides over the Senate.

Other provisions the Senate added to the bill say:

— Clergy members, doctors and teachers would face penalties for failing to report instances of alleged or suspected sexual abuse of children.

— Anyone who performs an abortion for a girl younger than 14 would be required to preserve fetal tissue so it could undergo DNA tests to determine the father.

The House argued vigorously about the bill for about an hour. Part of it was a procedural debate. Bailey, D-Greenville, urged his colleagues to send the bill into a final round of House and Senate negotiations. Bailey said his committee hadn’t had a chance to consider the anti-abortion provisions the Senate had added.

Rep. Bobby Moak, D-Bogue Chitto, told the House he also had received numerous e-mails in support of the Senate additions. But he said the fair thing to do would be to allow House-Senate negotiations so all legislators would have a chance to digest what they were being asked to put into state law.

‘‘Let’s don’t be cattle-herded down a chute on a particular get-re-elected kind of issue,’’ Moak said.

Freshman Rep. Brandon Jones, D-Pascagoula, said the Senate additions would ‘‘criminalize’’ actions by clergy members who counsel girls considering abortion.

But some conservatives said the bill would disappear if it went into negotiations. The effort to send the bill to negotiations failed, with 52 House members voting yes and 68 voting no.

That led to a separate vote on whether to accept the Senate changes. At that point, the bill passed 79-41. Moak and Jones were among those who voted for negotiations and then flipped around to accept the Senate additions.

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The bill is House Bill 520.