Late Friday a federal judge in Mississippi upheld the state’s latest anti-abortion law, but ruled the state’s only clinic can stay open and will not face any penalties as it tries to comply with the new mandate.
It’s a partial win for both the Jackson Women’s Health Organization and the state. The law requires anyone who does abortions at the clinic to be an OB-GYN with privileges to admit patients to a local hospital. The clinic’s two out-of-state OB-GYNS don’t have those privileges and have had difficulty getting them from local hospitals. “The resolution of that issue will impact the ultimate issues in this case,” Jordan wrote.
The clinic said its OB-GYNs have applied for admitting privileges at most Jackson-area hospitals but haven’t received responses. When clinic employees called a Catholic hospital to ask about applying for privileges, clinic owner Diane Derzis said, “We were told not to bother.”
Republican Gov. Phil Bryant has said he hopes the law will help make Mississippi “abortion-free,” while others acknowledged it was designed to put even more pressure on the Supreme Court to revisit its rulings in Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey. Bryant said he Friday was “gratified” that the judge will allow the law to start taking effect. “Mississippi will continue to defend this important measure as the legal process moves forward,” Bryant said in a news release.
The state health officer, Dr. Mary Currier, filed a sworn statement in federal court Thursday showing how long it would take to fully implement the law if it takes effect. If the clinic is inspected and found out of compliance, it would get about 10 months to try to follow the mandates and to exhaust its administrative appeals with the Health Department. If the clinic loses its state license, it would then get more time to appeal to a state court.
JWC says its physicians do almost all of the roughly 2,000 abortions that are performed in Mississippi each year. If Mississippi physicians perform 10 or fewer abortions a month, or 100 or fewer a year, they can avoid having their offices regulated as abortion facilities. That exception, opponents claim, was drawn with the clinic specifically in mind knowing it would likely shut down the JWC.
A spokeswoman for Pro-Life Mississippi, Tanya Britton, said Friday of the judge’s ruling that keeps the clinic open for now: “It’s not a victory for the women of the state of Mississippi. This law was always about their health. If a woman is going to have an abortion and if people who perform abortions say they really care about the health of women, then they should want the best standard of care.”
The New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights, which has been helping the clinic in the lawsuit, says there are no plans to appeal. “The federal judge has provided crucial temporary protection for the clinic and its physicians,” Nancy Northup, the center’s president and CEO, said in a news release. “We will remain vigilant in our fight to ensure the clinic isn’t subject to penalties that would force its doors to close and deprive Mississippi women of their constitutionally-protected rights.”
Thanks to this ruling the women in Mississippi still have temporary access to abortion services should they need them. But those services remain isolated to one clinic and with additional pressure to close down. That’s hardly a win when women’s lives are on the line.
Photo from walknboston via flickr.