Q& A: Mississippi Right to Life explains how it passed a bill to ban “web-cam” abortions

Editor’s note. The Mississippi House and Senate has just passed a bill that bans so-called “Web-cam” abortions. The following is a Q & A with Barbara Whitehead, president of Mississippi Right to Life, and Scott Fischbach, executive director of Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life, who has worked closely with Mississippi Right to Life.

(Left to right) Barbara Whitefield, President, Mississippi Right to Life, Mississippi Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, and Scott Fischbach, executive director, Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life.

(Left to right) Barbara Whitefield, President, Mississippi Right to Life, Mississippi Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, and Scott Fischbach, executive director, Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life.

With Governor Phil Bryant’s signature – which is expected–Mississippi will join about a dozen states that have banned web-cam, internet abortions.  Congratulations.  Was it tough to do?

BW:  Yes.  We fought for two years for this webcam ban.  After our 2011 statewide elections we developed two primary goals legislatively.  One was to pass a clinic admitting privileges bill as abortion facilities in Mississippi have a long history of being pretty shady.  And since we are down to just one abortion center in our state, we needed to make sure that new abortionists – via the internet – don’t come into our state.  Thus a ban on webcam abortions was crucial.

SF:  Through my years in the pro-life movement I’ve worked with legislators in over half the states and I must say the legislators in Mississippi are wonderful to work with.  The legislators really respect the way in which Barbara brings people together.

What were the main objections to the webcam ban?

BW:  Numerous changes were made to the abortion drug regulation bill to make it into a webcam ban. There was not real strong opposition to requiring a physician to be physically present in the room to administer the drug.  Legislating is never a simple or easy process, but it works.  This legislation is so critical to us now because for the first time we are ahead of the abortionists.  No webcam abortions are taking place in our state that we know of, and this will prevent them from ever starting.

SF:  The medical community always has input on these matters too.   We reached out to them to help craft strong pro-life legislation that could maintain strong legislative support.  Relying on the legal expertise of Mary Spaulding Balch and the NRLC State Legislative Department was crucial at every turn.  Lt. Governor Reeves, Speaker Gunn, Chairman Kirby, and Chairman Mims really worked hard for this legislation and we appreciate their efforts. 

You have been working with or “lobbying” elected officials for many years – and quite successfully – how have things changed over the years?

BW:  Everything has changed!  The information and the way elected officials get that information has totally changed.  Communicating with an elected official today can be done at an instant.  We used to mail legislative alerts out to our chapters and have them write letters back to Jackson [the state capital] by mail.  Wow, that seems like the stone ages.  Now you can talk with one or all elected officials instantly any number of ways.

SF: It’s more fun now.  No matter where you are in the world you can read the legislation, watch the members in session, open up instant chat messaging with them as they argue bills on the floor.  Lobbying now is all about credibility, knowledge, coalition and timing.  It’s changed for the better, I think.

Will the last remaining abortion clinic in Jackson close soon?

BW:  That’s our hope and our prayer.  There will be a hearing on the matter on April 18, 2013, since the clinic has not been able to secure admitting privileges.  The abortionists that come into Jackson are from out of state.  The matter will no doubt be tied up in court for some time, but yes, our hope is that the clinic will close for good very soon.

SF:  I think it’s important to remember that if that last clinic is open or closed does not change the fact that Right to Life will have to be open, and here to stay, forever.  

What is next for Mississippi Right to Life?

BW:  Catch our breath!  The board has really been working hard on legislation for the last two sessions.  We are also in the middle of a four year grassroots revitalization program that brings in not only legislative activities but many educational programs, community outreach and a special focus on encouraging young people to respect life.  Legislatively we need to address end of life issues just as we have the abortion issue.  When I think of the years like 2004 where we passed six pieces of pro-life legislation in one session, or this year with the webcam ban it inspires me to work harder, longer and smarter than ever.  We will keep moving towards a pro-life Mississippi.

SF:  Barbara and the board have great long-term vision for the pro-life movement in Mississippi – it is an honor to help any way I can.  Recently I spoke to a group in Hattiesburg, Mississippi and I was so encouraged to see the next generation ready to keep up the fight.  We need to keep organizing.  Community by community we will build a pro-life culture. 

Editor’s note. Barbara Whitehead is from Vicksburg, Mississippi and is the President of Mississippi Right to Life. Mississippi Right to Life was started in 1977 as part of the Mission Possible project of Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life (MCCL).

Scott Fischbach, Executive Director of MCCL, has worked with Mississippi Right to Life in various roles since 1985.