The Speaker’s Commission on Life will work toward presenting legislation that supports mothers and babies before and after birth.
The Dobbs ruling this summer by the U.S. Supreme Court turned the issue of abortion regulation back over to the individual states when it overturned Roe v. Wade. Mississippi was one of the states where legislation was on the books that made the practice of abortion illegal with certain medical exceptions.
Mississippi’s Speaker of the House Philip Gunn has now tasked a select group of House members with providing additional solutions for assistance to mothers and babies in the post-Roe world. The new group will be known as the Speaker’s Commission on Life.
“We, for a long time, have been pro-life champions in the House,” Gunn told Y’all Politics on Tuesday before his announcement of the new House committee. “I announced the day of the Dobbs decision that I would be forming the commission for the purpose of revisiting and making sure we are doing all we can to address the needs of mothers who choose life and whose babies are born as a result of that choice.”
Speaker Gunn said the concern for mothers and babies did not begin with the Dobbs decision. He noted that the Mississippi House of Representatives has worked for years to encourage beneficial legislation to those groups.
Just last year, the lawmakers passed legislation to allow for tax credits for crisis pregnancy centers, which accounted for $3.5 million. Gunn said other efforts include the creation of Child Protective Services, streamlining adoption, and the support of the Baptist Children’s Village and the Methodist Children’s Home.
The Speaker said the push now to reexamine efforts and adjust accordingly is with the assumption that more children will inevitably be born in the state due to the stricter abortion laws. This will then create an even larger need than the state already experienced.
In 2021, Mississippi reported that 3,559 abortions, or induced terminations, were performed during the 2020 calendar year. Of the abortions in Mississippi, 65% occurred after the 7-week mark in the pregnancy.
The Speaker’s Commission will consist of the following House members:
- Otis Anthony (D – Sunflower)
- Cedric Burnett (D – Tunica)
- Angela Cockerham (I-Amite)
- Kevin Felsher (R – Harrison)
- Jill Ford (R – Madison)
- Debra Gibbs (D – Hinds)
- Missy McGee (R – Forrest)
- Dana Underwood McLean (R – Lowndes)
- Sam C. Mims, V (R – Pike)
- Lee Yancey (R – Rankin).
Prior to the appointment of the commission members, Speaker Gunn said lawmakers have been discussing some issues they know are impacting women and children. Those conversations have included experts in women’s healthcare, adoption, foster care, and crisis pregnancy centers, just to list a few.
Mississippi currently has 37 crisis pregnancy centers, and incentives to create more could soon come from the Legislature.
Other issues the commission plans to address deal with jobs and financial support for mothers during and after a child’s birth.
“One would be child support enforcement. Making sure that men who father babies are doing their job financially. Making sure the needs are being met of the child,” said Gunn.
Speaker Gunn said during these initial conversations, one of the primary concerns pregnant women are having is maintaining a good job with financial support throughout the pregnancy through the postpartum care period. Further than that, ensuring those mothers can afford suitable childcare when they return to work. Gunn said they are looking for ways to incentivize those pursuits.
The Speaker Commission members have already set a preliminary priority list of action items. Those include:
- Engage the faith community. Churches have a tremendous opportunity to step up and minister to women and children.
- Pregnancy resource centers. Incentivize the private sector to engage in supporting families dealing with unplanned pregnancies.
- Increase access to adoption. Make adoption more readily available and affordable.
- Jobs for Moms. Incentivize greater job opportunities and better access to childcare for new and expectant mothers.
- Families with challenges. Strengthen transition programs to help those suffering from family breakdown, abuse, drug addiction, homelessness, special needs, or other crises.
- Cultivating a life-affirming culture. Implement policies and educational programs that encourage strong marriages, stable families, and abstinence.
- Improved child support enforcement. Reforms that improve child support enforcement to hold non-custodial parents accountable, so custodial parents don’t bear the burdens alone.
- Foster care. More effective child protection and foster care.
“We are looking for private sector solutions. More government is not the intent of this. We aren’t looking for more government. We are looking to incentivize private solutions. The crisis pregnancy center tax credit is one of those ways,” said Speaker Gunn.
He added that he would be in favor of increasing the tax credit for crisis pregnancy centers higher than the $3.5 million.
Other legislation to come from lawmakers could address making adoption more readily available and affordable along with incentivizing employers to hire and retain mothers during and after pregnancy.
The guiding principles for the new House committee are:
- A family is the best place for children. The best place for a child is with their family.
- Unleash private initiative. When a family’s stability is shaken, people of faith, private businesses, non-profit organizations, and individuals must step forward to answer the need. We have a history of opening the door to private-sector action. We will broaden those actions and implement new ways that the private sector can answer the need.
- Government must stay in its lane and up its game. Expanding state government is not the best way to meet all these challenges. Where government already plays a role – such as in child support enforcement and foster care – we must make sure it is fulfilling its role.
While things are in the beginning phases for the new House committee, Speaker Gunn said there is the potential for subcommittees to be appointed. These subcommittees could tackle individual issues that mothers and babies face as discussions develop.
“What we are talking about is moving forward. Now, we have more women and children who need help, and we need to make sure we are providing that help,” said Gunn.
As lawmakers approach the 2023 Legislative session, the Speaker’s Commission will be tasked with familiarizing themselves with the issues facing mothers and babies, seeking out resources from experts who assist these communities, and coming to the table in January with solutions the state can implement that provide support.