On the day that Roe v. Wade was struck down, Mississippi House Speaker Philip Gunn (R) was asked whether the state’s restrictive law banning almost all abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy would apply to 12-year-old girls who are victims of incest.
“I believe life begins at conception,” he said at a news conference. “Every life is valuable. And those are my personal beliefs.”
After a journalist asked Gunn again whether a “12-year-old child molested by her family members should carry that pregnancy to term,” the speaker confirmed that’s what he believed was right.
“That is my personal belief,” Gunn answered. “I believe life begins at conception.”
Gunn’s remarks echo similar sentiments expressed by Republicans such as South Dakota Gov. Kristi L. Noem in the days since the Supreme Court ruled in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. The comments, which have met with blowback from liberals and women’s rights advocates, circulated widely Wednesday, with a video of the exchange posted to Twitter being viewed more than 500,000 times.
A spokesperson for Gunn did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.
The Mississippi Free Press first reported Gunn’s comments.
The fallout from last week’s historic ruling continued Thursday with President Biden calling for altering Senate filibuster rules to codify into law abortion rights and privacy protections in what is the most aggressive position he has staked out on reproductive rights. Biden, who previously has been reluctant to support changing the decades-old Senate filibuster rules, took a more combative approach in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s decision last week to overturn Roe.
“I believe we have to codify Roe v. Wade in the law, and the way to do that is to make sure the Congress votes to do that,” the president said during a news conference in Madrid. “And if the filibuster gets in the way, it’s like voting rights; it should be — we provide an exception for this.”
Although 13 states have “trigger bans” designed to take effect once Roe was struck down, prohibiting abortions within 30 days of the ruling, some judges have temporarily blocked the laws from being implemented. In Texas, Harris County Judge Christine Weems (D) granted a temporary restraining order to allow clinics to offer abortions for at least two weeks without criminal prosecution, saying that enforcing a pre-Roe ban would “inevitably and irreparably chill the provision of abortions in the vital last weeks in which safer abortion care remains available and lawful in Texas.” A Florida judge on Thursday blocked a new law to ban abortions in the state after 15 weeks of pregnancy, saying the measure violates the privacy provision of the state’s constitution.
Republicans have celebrated the end of Roe in the past week, with former vice president Mike Pence going so far as to call for a national abortion ban. Some GOP leaders, including Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, have appeared to express support for Justice Clarence Thomas’s concurring opinion that the Supreme Court could review other precedents that may be deemed “demonstrably erroneous.” But other Republicans in midterm races have often avoided questions or been at pains to shift the topic, and Democrats have leaned heavily into elevating the concerns over the court ruling and the new limits that will be imposed on abortions.
Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch (R) certified on Monday a 2007 trigger law that would “prohibit abortions in the state of Mississippi” at any stage of the pregnancy “except in cases where necessary for the preservation of the mother’s life or where the pregnancy was caused by rape,” according to the Mississippi Secretary of State’s office. The rape also would have to be reported to law enforcement, which does not happen for most incest cases, reported Counseling Today, a publication of the American Counseling Association.
Gunn is not the only Republican to support no exceptions to legal abortions. Noem, the South Dakota governor, echoed the sentiment, telling CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday that she did not support legal abortion in cases of rape. The governor, considered a potential GOP presidential contender in 2024, cited the importance of building “stronger families.”
“I’ve never believed that having a tragedy or a tragic situation happen to someone is a reason to have another tragedy to occur,” said Noem, who has called for a special legislative session to bolster the state’s trigger law that immediately banned abortion. “I would prefer that we continue to go forward and that we’re putting resources in front of these women and walking alongside them.”
Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) also was asked on NBC’s “Meet the Press” about whether he was comfortable knowing a 13-year-old who was raped by a family member could not get an abortion in the state.
“I would prefer a different outcome than that, but that’s not the debate today in Arkansas,” Hutchinson told program host Chuck Todd on Sunday. “It might be in the future, but for now, the law triggered with only one exception … as you said, in the case of the life of the mother.”
Data cited by the nonprofit Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) shows that 93 percent of the juvenile victims who made sexual abuse complaints to law enforcement knew the alleged perpetrators. More than one-third of juvenile victims who suffer sexual abuse say the act was committed by a family member, according to RAINN.
Speaking on the Mississippi House floor last week, Gunn said the Supreme Court decision was “a profound change in the law in our country.” During his remarks on abortion and the state’s law, Gunn was initially asked by a reporter with the Associated Press, “What about the case of a 12-year-old girl who was molested by her father or uncle?”
“No, [the law] does not include an exception for incest,” Gunn said. “I don’t know if that will be changed.”
At that point, in response to the question about incest, Gunn cited his personal belief that “life begins at conception.”
“These other things that y’all are talking about are certainly things we can talk about moving forward. I do not want those things to detract from the significance of this day,” Gunn said, according to the Free Press. “I’m afraid if we get too far afield from what we’re talking about today, that will overshadow the significance of this day.”
Critics on social media blasted Gunn’s remarks. Among them were Democrats in other states who say the Mississippi lawmaker’s beliefs are similar to those of GOP officials in their own states.
“Mississippi House Speaker Philip Gunn is not alone,” tweeted Virginia state Sen. Ghazala Hashmi (D). “We have GOP state Senators in Virginia preparing to introduce similar bills, completely banning abortion. Such bans would force traumatized children to give birth.”
Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves (R) joined Gunn on Wednesday in celebrating the overturning of Roe. The governor did so by formally proclaiming June to be “Sanctity of Life Month.”
Ashley Parker and Matt Viser contributed to this report.