Navigating Mississippi’s strict abortion laws remains confusing for many residents more than a year after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down federal abortion rights in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, but the Mississippi Abortion Access Coalition is hoping its new Abortion Patient Bill of Rights will help clear the air.
Mississippi State Director at Planned Parenthood Southeast Tyler Harden, a MAAC member, said she had seen many misconceptions about abortion for Mississippians, including from people who thought they could not leave the state to seek an abortion. It remains legal for Mississippians to get out-of-state abortions, she noted, adding that she wants to ensure every Mississippian understands their rights post-Dobbs.
“I thought about what it would look like to have something easy and simple for Mississippians to understand, comprehend and access about their rights to abortion access,” she told the Mississippi Free Press on Oct. 6.
The Abortion Patient Bill of Rights shares information about out-of-state abortions, abortion pills, privacy laws and other resources.
MAAC is working to translate it into Spanish because “the Spanish-speaking community is getting hit with a lot of misinformation about abortion access,” Harden said.
Republican Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch led the successful effort to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 abortion rights ruling Roe v. Wade in the June 2022 Dobbs decision. That high court’s decision allowed the State’s 2007 trigger law to take effect, banning abortion in nearly all cases, “except in cases where necessary for the preservation of the mother’s life or where the pregnancy was caused by rape.” It forced Mississippi’s only abortion clinic to close its door in July 2022.
Democratic candidate for Mississippi attorney general Greta Kemp Martin has argued for abortion rights awareness throughout her campaign to unseat Fitch in the Nov. 7 election. She said the Abortion Patient Bill of Rights is “probably the only effort I have seen in this state to define what rights are still available to people that need care.”
“This is a really good step towards getting some clarification for the public on how to navigate Mississippi’s restrictive abortion policies because if we’re gonna have them, we’ve gotta make sure people can utilize them when needed,” she told the Mississippi Free Press on Oct. 4.
AG Fitch Wants to Know About Out-of-State Abortions
Even though Mississippians can legally travel out-of-state for abortions, Attorney General Lynn Fitch told the Biden administration in a June 16 letter that authorities need to know about residents who do so or who seek gender-affirming care elsewhere.
For state authorities to access this information, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra would have to stop a proposed rule change that would keep states from obtaining citizens’ private health information from another state “for a criminal, civil, or administrative investigation into or proceeding against any person in connection with seeking, obtaining, providing, or facilitating reproductive health care … outside of the state where the investigation or proceeding is authorized” and “is lawful in the state where it is provided.”
Tyler Harden said Fitch asking for this information is a “fear tactic” designed to cause confusion for Mississippians seeking abortions in other states.
The attorney general has also sought to message that she is making good on her pledge to “empower women” after overturning Roe v. Wade by launching the Mississippi Access to Maternal Assistance (MAMA) website on Oct. 2, which shares information about pregnancy, health, adoption, food, goods, safety, money, jobs and child care. In her newsletter, she described it as “A key component of my Empowerment Project” and said the goal of MAMA is “to help mothers find what they and their families need to thrive in three clicks or less.” But no information about abortion access or navigating the State’s abortion laws is included.
“If we’re going to actually provide support for women, families and children here in Mississippi, we have to center their autonomy and trust them as Mississippians to be able to take care of themselves and their families,” Harden said when asked about MAMA.
Martin Wouldn’t Pursue Charges For Abortions
A 13-year-old girl in Clarksdale, Miss., was forced to have her rapist’s baby earlier this summer because the girl’s mother did not know Mississippi allowed abortions in rape cases, and her doctor did not know if the exception would apply in her case. To legally get an abortion in the state, a victim has to report the assault to the police.
“In many, many cases, confusion can equal just things like horrific changes in people’s lives,” Greta Kemp Martin said.
Martin said the Mississippi Legislature needs to define what constitutes a “life-saving abortion” so doctors and nurses “are not left wondering when they can use exceptions to get this medical care for pregnant women.”
“As for me, I can tell you that my office will not be pursuing any charges against doctors, or nurses or women, especially in cases where the application of these exceptions are unclear,” she told the Mississippi Free Press in an interview on Sept. 22.
The Mississippi Free Press reached out to Fitch’s office to ask the attorney general about her abortion policies, but did not receive a response.