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Mississippi governor signs 20-week abortion ban

Critics say Mississippi bill banning most abortions after 20 weeks effectively sets an 18-week standard.

By Frances Burns

JACKSON, Miss., April 24 (UPI) -- Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant (R) has signed a bill that bans most abortions in the state after 20 weeks.

The only exceptions are in cases where continuing the pregnancy would put a woman's life at risk, and where fetuses would have no chance of survival. The 20-week limit applies to pregnancies that are the result of rape or incest.

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Bryant said as he signed the bill Wednesday that the law protects both fetuses and women seeking abortions.

“Today is an important day for protecting the unborn and the health and safety of women in Mississippi,” Bryant said. “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.”

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Abortion opponents have been pushing for 20-week limits because they claim that is the time when fetuses become able to feel pain. In January, the Supreme Court refused to hear Arizona's appeal after a federal appellate court struck down its 20-week law.

North Dakota adopted legislation that would have banned abortions once a fetus has a detectable heartbeat, at about six weeks. That law was stayed by a federal judge who ruled last week that it is unconstitutional.

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Planned Parenthood said the law as written is effectively an 18-week ban since the length of a pregnancy is counted from the end of a woman's last menstrual period. The group called it "a political rather than a medical standard."

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"Women who make the deeply personal and often complex decision to end a pregnancy after 18 weeks should do so in consultation with their physician, not politicians," Felicia Brown-Williams, director of public policy for Planned Parenthood Southeast, said.

Mississippi currently has only a single clinic, which performs abortions up to 16 weeks.

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