The Mississippi legislature has passed one of the strongest restrictions on abortion in the U.S., barring most abortions 15 weeks into pregnancy.

“As I have repeatedly said, I want Mississippi to be the safest place in America for an unborn child,” Gov. Phil Bryant said on Twitter March 6. “House Bill 1510 will help us achieve that goal.”

The Senate voted to pass the bill by a 35-14 vote.

The bill had been modified to remove criminal penalties involving jail time. Physicians who violate the law will lose their state medical licenses and receive a civil penalty of up to $500, National Public Radio reports.

The amended bill passed the Republican-controlled House by a vote of 75-34. An earlier version of the bill passed the House by a Feb. 2 vote of 79-31, with some Democratic support.

In a Feb. 8 message, Bishops Joseph Kopacz of Jackson and Louis Kihneman of Biloxi said the state’s legislature is “to be commended for voting to protect unborn human life.”

State records indicate about 200 abortions a year are performed on women 15 to 20 weeks pregnant, backers of the bill have said. Their bill allows exceptions for when a woman’s life is in danger or when an unborn child has a severe abnormality.

State Rep. Becky Currie, the bill’s sponsor, said the bill is appropriate because most women discover they are pregnant months before the pregnancy reaches 15 weeks.

The passage of the bill drew other praise.

“Mississippians are committed to protecting the lives of unborn children, and this law will be a major step in accomplishing that goal,” Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves said, according to the Clarion Ledger. “I am committed to making Mississippi the safest place in America for an unborn child.”

Both Mississippi and North Carolina currently bar abortion at 20 weeks into pregnancy, measured from a woman’s last menstrual period. Other states start from a date two weeks later.

The state’s only abortion clinic, Jackson Women’s Health Organization, does not perform abortions as late as 20 weeks and so it did not challenge the existing law, clinic owner Diane Derzis told the Associated Press. The clinic does perform abortions three weeks past the legislation’s ban limit. If the bill becomes law, it will refer women seeking these abortions to out-of-state clinics.

Derzis told the Clarion Ledger she was not surprised by the Senate vote, adding that Bryant “has never seen an abortion bill he didn't like.”

“We will be planning to sue,” she said, adding that pro-life groups are passing abortion restrictions in hopes of national changes through a U.S. Supreme Court decision.

According to Derzis, she and her allies are in “a very fragile place right now.”

“Roe is clearly in danger and that's what they're preparing for … They hope by the time they get to the Supreme Court they will have changed the Supreme Court,” she said.

It is unclear whether such abortion limits will pass scrutiny in federal court.

In their Feb. 8 message, Mississippi’s Catholic bishops lamented the failure of the U.S. Senate to pass the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which would bar abortion 20 weeks after fertilization.

“We Catholic Bishops of Mississippi wish to reaffirm the sacredness of human life from conception until natural death. With Pope St. John Paul II, we recognize abortion as ‘a most serious wound inflicted on society and its culture by the very people who ought to be society’s promoters and defenders’,” the bishops said, citing St. John Paul II's 1995 encyclical Evangelium vitae.

Legislators “have a duty to make courageous choices in support of life, especially through legislative measures,” they said.

“We ask continued prayer for a culture of life to prevail in our society, and we urge those who voted against this legislation – especially those who are Catholic – to reconsider.”