By EMILY W. PETTUS
JACKSON — Abortion remains a divisive issue in Mississippi, months after 58 percent of the state’s voters rejected an amendment that would’ve defined life as beginning at fertilization.
The personhood amendment last November was aimed squarely at setting up a court challenge to Roe v. Wade, the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion nationwide.
The failure of the initiative didn’t end efforts to limit access to abortion. Rather, it appeared to energize some legislators and Republican Gov. Phil Bryant, who were elected on the same ballot as the initiative.
That’s a stark contrast to what happened after an earlier statewide vote. In a 2001 election, 64 percent of voters chose to keep the Confederate battle emblem on the Mississippi flag. Since then, there have been no serious efforts to change the flag, with many legislators simply saying they consider it a closed issue.
Abortion opponents this year pushed House Bill 1390, which will become law July 1. It requires anyone performing an abortion at the clinic to be an OB-GYN with admitting privileges at a local hospital. Many of the bill’s supporters say they hope it will shut down Mississippi’s only abortion clinic, Jackson Women’s Health Organization.
“It shows you that the Mississippi House and the Mississippi Senate, we are pro-life. And we believe that life begins at conception,” said House Public Health Chairman Sam Mims, R-McComb, the bill’s sponsor.
On April 24, Bryant discussed the law on the Internet talk show of Tim Wildmon, president of the American Family Association.
“The hypocrisy of the left, that now tried to kill this bill, that says I should have never signed it, the true hypocrisy is that their one mission in life is to abort children, is to kill children in the womb,” Bryant said. “And it doesn’t really matter, they don’t care that if the mother’s life is in jeopardy, that if something goes wrong, a doctor can’t admit them to a local hospital, that he’s not even board-certified.”
Diane Derzis, owner of Jackson Women’s Health Organization, has said the clinic already uses OB-GYNs and has one doctor with admitting privileges. Those privileges aren’t easy for doctors to get, either because they live out of state or because some religious-affiliated hospitals might be unwilling to associate with people who do elective abortions. She also argues the privileges are unnecessary, because the clinic has an agreement to transfer patients if complications develop. Derzis plans to sue to block the law if doctors can’t get privileges.
Also on April 24, Republican Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves killed the nomination of Dr. Carl Reddix to the state Board of Health because Reddix, a Jackson OB-GYN, has a connection to Jackson Women’s Health Organization. Reddix does not perform abortions at the clinic, but he has admitting hospital privileges.
“I just take care of their complications if they have any. And they have had very, very few,” Reddix told The Associated Press.
Reddix has served on the board since last summer, when he was appointed by then-Gov. Haley Barbour. Barbour submitted Reddix’s nomination to the Senate on Jan. 3, a week before leaving office. After AP asked Reeves about Reddix’s nomination on April 24, it disappeared from the legislative website.
“Lt. Gov. Reeves had concerns about the appointment because of (Reddix’s) affiliation with the abortion clinic and wanted Gov. Bryant to refer a qualified doctor to guide state health policy,” Reeves spokeswoman Laura Hipp said.
Reddix, who grew up in Biloxi, earned his medical degree from Tufts University and a master’s degree in health policy from Harvard. He did his OB-GYN residency at Johns Hopkins Hospital before returning to Mississippi to practice medicine. “My academic pedigree is beyond reproach and second to none,” Reddix said.