But there's no clear evidence showing that the situations outlined in HB 151 are reliable indicators of abuse. HB 151 has followed a twisted path. It originated in the office state Attorney General Jim Hood, a Democrat. The legislation was then handed off for sponsorship to state Representative Andy Gipson, a Republican. Neither Hood nor Gipson responded to questions about how the conditions were decided.
Gipson is one of the most right-wing Republicans in the legislature. In 2012 he sponsored the so-called "personhood" bill, which would have granted fertilized eggs citizenship, and numerous anti-abortion bills similar to those in statehouses around the country, including fetal pain and heartbeat bills. HB 151 passed with bipartisan support -- but then, there is often very little daylight between Democrats and Republicans in Mississippi.
I have seen the governor speak twice, both times chairing teen pregnancy prevention events in Jackson. On both occasions he opened his remarks with a prayer, talked about his personal pain over teen pregnancy, God's design for repopulating the earth, and the scourge of deadbeat "baby daddies" in his state. Most recently he made national news by lamenting women's entrance into the workforce as "the reason for American mediocrity." He has made eradicating abortion in Mississippi a personal crusade. But Bryant's push hit a snag in April after a court granted an injunction allowing the state's last abortion clinic to stay open, despite a law intended to shut it down.
But Mississippi officials don't have their story straight on what this bill sets out to do. Is it, as the Bryants claim, a weapon against sexual predators? Or as Gipson claimed in an interview, a tool to "deter teenage pregnancy by causing men who are engaging in this conduct to think twice before they get a young girl pregnant"?
Either way, it's not clear that HB 151 solves a problem that exists.
"Governor Bryant's insistence that old men preying on young women is the reason for Mississippi's high teen pregnancy rate is not supported by actual data," says Jamie Holcomb Bardwell of the Mississippi Women's Fund. Mississippi is number one in teen birth rates in the country and number two in rate of teen pregnancy. Nationally, 70 percent of sexually active teenage girls have sex for the first time with a partner her age or one to two years older, according to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy,
"The real problem [is] politicians like Governor Bryant who say they want to protect women but have little interest in implementing policies that do so," Bardwell says.
And finally, it's unclear how the bill's conditions would work in practice. It doesn't spell out how paternity will be determined once cord blood is seized. Unless the father has been convicted of a crime serious enough to require his DNA be stored in a database, establishing paternity will become a matter of criminal investigation. Mississippi could use the need to determine paternity in accordance with HB 151 as pretext for broadening scope of who gets swabbed to any man arrested for any crime, no matter how small. The U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Maryland v. King in early June that, like photographing or fingerprinting a suspect of a crime, a cheek swab is reasonable upon arrest.