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Slimantics: Mississippi abortion bill is built on science that doesn't exist


Slim Smith



Something interesting happened in the Mississippi Legislature this week. 


The Senate passed another gun bill and another abortion bill. 


There is nothing remarkable about that, of course. Our roads are crumbling, our schools are dumpster diving for supplies and state finances are a wreck. So it's pretty obvious (to our legislators, at least) that what this state really needs is more guns and more unwanted babies. 


The only thing missing this year is a bill to make the lives of LGBT people in the state more miserable. Still, two out of three ain't bad. 


It's always been far easier for our lawmakers to pander to passions than do the hard, dirty work of solving real problems, of which we have many, as noted. 


So, no, passing a bill that allows guns in schools and another bill banning abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, is remarkable only for its pointlessness. 


What is noteworthy is that the Senator who pushed the 15-week abortion ban based his argument on - are you sitting down? - science and technology. That's a first. Mississippi legislators typically regard science with the same disdain as tax increases. 


Senator Joey Filingane (R, Sumrall), who helped push the House abortion bill through the Senate Public Health Committee and introduced the bill on the floor (where it passed by a 35-14 vote), said the law reflects the advances in science and technology, making the state's current 20-week ban, already the most restrictive in the nation, outdated. 


"Abortion is one of the areas where technology is really driving the debate," Fillingane told a reporter from Mississippi Today. "Of course religion is important and driving it, too. But I think technology has pushed the timeline further and further." 


When asked about legal challenges to the law, Fillingane suggested that in the two-to-three years any case might take to wind through the court system, science may have closed in on that 15-week viability goal. 


The viability question is important. In Roe v. Wade, abortions were conditional on the viability of the fetus to live outside the mother's womb. 


Let's get this straight on the science part: Fillingane's argument is a fantasy concocted out of whole cloth. 


For starters, the earliest recorded survival of a premature baby came at 21 weeks, 4 days, so the current 20-week ban is sufficient. 


But somehow, says Fillingane, in the space of just a few short years, viable births will occur more than six weeks earlier than the earliest surviving premature birth ever recorded. 


This is big, big news. It's so big even those who do research in the field don't know about it. 


Oh, there have been some gains. Last year, a study by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists showed an increase of 4 percent in survival rates for births between 22 and 24 weeks between 2001 and 2010. Even so, 64 percent of the entire group died or were severely impaired (16 percent). For those births at 22 weeks, the death rate was 97-98 percent with just a 1 percent survival-without-impairment rate. 


At 22 weeks, when the survival rate is 2-to-3 percent, the fetus is roughly the size of a spaghetti squash and weighs almost a pound. At 20 weeks, the state's current ban age, it is about the size of a banana and weighs about 10.5 ounces. 


At 15 weeks? The fetus is the size of a navel orange and weighs just 2.5 ounces, the weight of a C battery. 


Survival at 15 weeks is an absurd notion now, for decades to come and, most likely, forever. 


Fillingane certainly must know this if he did any research at all, which he probably didn't. It's far easier just to make up stuff.  


Assuming the House agrees to a couple of changes the Senate added to the bill, it will soon become law. And soon after that, it will be challenged in the courts. And after that, it will be ruled unconstitutional. 


Good bills don't need to be propped up with lies. Sooner or later, the flaws are exposed. That's precisely what we will see here. 


So let's call this what it is, a Mississippi taxpayer-funded exercise in tilting at legal windmills. Let's also acknowledge what it isn't, an argument built on science/technology. 


If legislators want to tackle a subject where the science actually supports their argument, they should take up climate change. 


Don't hold your breath on that one.


Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]


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