MississippiĀ’s Sole Abortion Clinic Fights to Remain Open

Mississippi is embroiled in a legal battle after the sole remaining abortion clinic in the state, the Jackson Women’s Health Organization (JWHO), sued the state after a law scheduled to take effect on July 1, 2012 threatened to shut it down.[1] H.B. 1390 requires all physicians who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a local hospital and be board certified in obstetrics and gynecology. Of the three providers at JWHO, all are board certified OB-GYNs but only one has local admitting privileges.[2] Proponents of the law claim its purpose is to preserve the health and safety of women but made no secret of its true political motive to eliminate legal abortion in Mississippi. By crafting a law for which compliance would be nearly impossible in Mississippi’s hostile conservative climate, opponents argue the law is unconstitutional in content and form.
 
H.B. 1390 moved quickly through the legislatures. Mississippi’s House of Representatives passed the bill on March 13 with a majority vote in the Republican controlled house.[3] It then passed in the Senate on April 4 with a large majority.[4] Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant (R) signed the bill on April 16, which was to come into effect on July 1.[5]  The day before the law was slated to shut down the clinic, Judge Daniel P. Jordan III of Federal District Court issued a ruling that temporarily blocked the law and scheduled a hearing for July 11.[6] Compelling evidence suggesting the law’s actual purpose was to limit abortion prompted the Judge’s decision:
 
Plaintiffs have offered evidence — including quotes from significant legislative and executive officers — that the act’s purpose is to eliminate abortions in Mississippi. They likewise submitted evidence that no safety or health concerns motivated its passage. This evidence has not yet been rebutted.[7]
 
The evidence presented on behalf of the clinic was substantial. On his website, Mississippi Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves (R) explicitly stated the new law “should close the only abortion clinic in Mississippi.”[8] Representative Sam Mims (R), who authored the bill, confirmed that one of its goals was to reduce the number of abortions in Mississippi.[9] Governor Bryant had no qualms about shutting down the clinic, stating if the law caused it close, then “so be it.”[10] He commented that it was “the first step in a movement, I believe, to do what we campaigned on: to say that we're going to try to end abortion in Mississippi.’”[11]Anti-abortion protestors who have stood outside the clinic for years even made plans for the building once it was shut down. Ron Nederhoed, one of the protestors, explained “we’re going to turn it into a museum to honor the children who were killed.”[12]
 
H.B. 1390 is considered to be a Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers (TRAP) law. As defined by the Center for Reproductive Rights, TRAP laws “single out the medical practices of doctors who provide abortions, and impose on them requirements that are different and more burdensome than those imposed on other medical practices.”[13] It’s difficult for the clinic to obtain hospital privileges because as Elizabeth Nash, a public policy analyst for the Guttmacher Institute noted, hospitals do not want to be involved in controversial issues such as abortion.[14] When employees called one Catholic hospital to ask about admitting privileges, clinic owner Diane Derzis was told “not to bother” applying.[15] The requirements under the new TRAP law are also unnecessary. Not only are emergencies related to abortions extremely rare (less than 0.3 percent according to the Guttmacher Institute)[16], but JWHO already had transfer agreements arranged with nearby hospitals in case of such emergencies.[17]
 
At the hearing on July 11, lawyers for the state argued that the block should be lifted because the administrative process for carrying out the new law could take up to six months, during which the clinic could operate and come into compliance. Lawyers from The Center for Reproductive Rights, representing the clinic, countered that JWHO would still be liable to criminal prosecutions while it operated illegally. Judge Jordan allowed the law to take effect in order to determine the constitutionality of the law, which will depend in part on how easily the doctors are able to comply with the law.[18]
 
Advocates of reproductive rights have consistently noted that attempts to eliminate abortion through legislative action only eliminate safe abortion, not abortion all together. Derzis believes poor women who lack the resources to travel out of state to the nearest abortion provider will seek out non-registered abortion providers in Mississippi, putting themselves at risk. “There is no question about it, some women are going to do whatever it takes,” she stated.[19] According to the state’s health department, 2,297 abortions were performed in 2010. “We've been able to be with women at a time in their lives where they are in crisis, when they need to have something done and need that support,” stated Derzis. “That's why it has to be available. It has to be.”[20]
 
 

[1]Campbell Robertson, “With Limits, Judge Allows Abortion Law in Mississippi,” New York Times, 13 July 2012, accessed 26 July 2012, < http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/14/us/judge-partly
[2]“Robin Marty, “Mississippi Could Be “Abortion-Free” On July 1st As Bryant Signs TRAP Bill Into Law,” RH Reality Check, 16 April 2012, accessed 26 July 2012, <http://www.rhrealitycheck.org/
[3]Robbie Ward, “Mississippi lawmakers approve abortion restrictions,” Reuters, 13 March 2012, accessed 25 July 2012, <http://whtc.com/news/articles/2012/mar/14/mississippi-lawmakers-
[4]Laura Tillman, “Mississippi Senate passes abortion regulation bill,” Associated Press, 4 April 2012, accessed 25 July 2012, <http://www.chron.com/news/article/Mississippi-Senate-passes-
[5]“Mississippi Could Be “Abortion-Free” On July 1st As Bryant Signs TRAP Bill Into Law,” ibid.
[6]Marc Santora, “Mississippi Law Aimed at Abortion Clinic is Blocked,” New York Times, 1 July 2012, accessed 26 July 2012, <http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/02/us/judge-blocks-anti-
[7]Ibid.
[8]Ibid.
[9]Robbie Brown, “Mississippi’s Lone Abortion Clinic, Given Temporary Reprieve, Fields Rush of Calls,” New York Times, 2 July 2012, accessed 26 July 2012,< http://www.nytimes.com/2012/
[10]“Mississippi’s Lone Abortion Clinic, Given Temporary Reprieve, Fields Rush of Calls,” ibid.
[11]Rich Phillips, “Judge lets Mississippi's only abortion clinic stay open -- for now,” CNN, 11 July 2012, accessed 26 July 2012, <http://www.cnn.com/2012/07/11/us/mississippi-abortion-
[12]“Mississippi’s Lone Abortion Clinic, Given Temporary Reprieve, Fields Rush of Calls,” ibid.
[13]“Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers (TRAP),” The Center for Reproductive Rights, 5 March 2009, accessed 25 July 2012, <http://reproductiverights.org/en/project/targeted-regulation-of-abortion-providers-trap>.
[14]“Mississippi’s Lone Abortion Clinic, Given Temporary Reprieve, Fields Rush of Calls,” ibid.
[15]“Mississippi's only abortion clinic can remain open, but new state law can take effect, judge rules,” Associated Press, 14 July 2012, accessed 26 July 2012, <http://www.foxnews.com/
[16]Matt Williams, “Mississippi's sole abortion clinic effectively shuttered by new state law,” The Guardian, 1 July 2012, accessed 26 July 2012, <http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/
[17]“Mississippi Could Be “Abortion-Free” On July 1st As Bryant Signs TRAP Bill Into Law,” ibid.
[18]“With Limits, Judge Allows Abortion Law in Mississippi,” ibid.
[19]“Mississippi's sole abortion clinic effectively shuttered by new state law,” ibid.
[20]“Judge lets Mississippi's only abortion clinic stay open -- for now,” ibid.

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