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Mississippi governor set to sign 15-week abortion ban

Story highlights
  • The law would be the most restrictive in the country
  • Women who violate the law would face criminal charges
  • Opponents say the measure is unconstitutional

(CNN) Mississippi's House of Representatives voted Thursday in favor of a bill that would prevent women from getting abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. The procedural vote moves the bill one step closer to becoming law in a state that already limits access to abortions.

House Bill 1510, known as the Gestational Age Act, was approved by the state Senate by a 35-14 vote on Tuesday. The House vote was 75-34 in favor. It will now be sent to Gov. Phil Bryant, who plans to sign the bill into law next week, his office said. The law would take effect immediately, making Mississippi the state with the most restrictive abortion law measured in weeks of pregnancy.

"As I have repeatedly said, I want Mississippi to be the safest place in America for an unborn child," Bryant said in a statement. "House Bill 1510 will help us achieve that goal, and I look forward to signing it."

Women who violate the law could face criminal charges. Doctors who perform abortions on women who are more than 15 weeks pregnant could lose their license to practice medicine and face other civil penalties.

It would not the first restriction placed on access to abortion in Mississippi. The state prevents women from getting abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy unless "the woman's life is endangered, her physical health is severely compromised or there is a lethal fetal anomaly," according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research and policy organization.

It's one of 17 states that bans abortions at about 20 weeks post-fertilization, according to Guttmacher. In all, 24 states have laws banning abortions after a designated duration of pregnancy.

Furthermore, in Mississippi, only one health center currently provides abortions.

Mississippi also requires doctors who perform abortions to be board-certified or board-eligible obstetrician-gynecologists, the only state in the country with such a restriction. The advocacy group The Center for Reproductive Rights is challenging the requirement in court.

The Center for Reproductive Rights also plans to challenge House Bill 1510 if it becomes law.

"This bill is dangerous," Senior Vice President Lourdes Rivera said in a statement. "The Center is prepared to answer any attempt to undermine 40 years of Supreme Court precedent with the full force of the law."

The Center for Reproductive Rights and Planned Parenthood argue that the bill is unconstitutional, citing similar legislation that has been struck down when challenged in court. Arizona, North Dakota and Arkansas introduced bills that prevent women from getting abortions after similar early-term limit cutoffs that were struck down in lower courts. Those decisions were upheld at the federal level.

"The ban is not only unconstitutional -- it endangers women's health care across our state," said Felicia Brown-Williams, Mississippi state director for Planned Parenthood Southeast Advocates, in a statement. "If legislators truly cared about women's health, they would be focused on ways to improve access to health care for women, not restrict it."

Planned Parenthood says the Mississippi bill is part of a broader effort by politicians across the country to ban abortion "one law at a time," the organization said in a statement. Politicians at the state level have passed more than 400 restrictions on abortions since 2011, it says.

The procedural vote on the bill took place on International Women's Day, dedicated to celebrating the cultural, political, economic and social achievements of women.

CNN's Jamiel Lynch contributed to this report.