By Ian Simpson
(Reuters) - Mississippi moved a step closer on Tuesday to passing the United States' most restrictive abortion law when a state Senate committee approved a bill banning most procedures after 15 weeks of gestation.
The measure, House Bill 1510, now heads to the full Senate after passage by the Public Health and Welfare Committee, Lieutenant Governor Tate Reeves said in a statement. Current state law bans abortion at 20 weeks after conception.
A vote is expected in the Republican-controlled Senate by March 7, a spokeswoman for Reeves said by phone. The bill passed the state House of Representatives earlier this month.
"I appreciate the work of the committee and look forward to seeing our state continue to lead the way in protecting the lives of unborn children," said Reeves, a Republican who presides over the Senate.
Republican Governor Phil Bryant told the Mississippi Today website after passage in the Republican-controlled House this month that if the Senate approved the measure he would sign it.
A representative for Mississippi's only abortion clinic, the Jackson Women's Health Organization, could not be reached for comment.
Seventeen states ban abortion at about 20 weeks after fertilization or its equivalent of 22 weeks after the woman's last menstrual period, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which opposes abortion limits.
The Mississippi bill includes an exception in the case of severe fetal abnormality or a medical emergency, which it defines as a threat to the woman's life or a serious risk of impairing a major bodily function.
Felicia Brown-Williams, the Mississippi state director for Planned Parenthood Southeast, has told Mississippi Today the proposed ban was unconstitutional and bad policy.
The U.S. Supreme Court legalized abortion in its 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling. It has banned prohibiting abortion before the fetus is able to live outside the womb, usually seen at about 20 weeks of gestation.
The Guttmacher Institute said last month that about 926,200 U.S. abortions were performed in 2014, down 12 percent from 2011.
Americans tend to split roughly down the middle on abortion access, with 49 percent saying they supported it and 46 percent saying they opposed it in a 2017 Gallup poll.
(Reporting by Ian Simpson in Washington; Editing by Leslie Adler)