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Sole Abortion Clinic In Miss. Fights Law To Stay Open

Jun 29, 2012
Originally published on June 29, 2012 10:26 pm

A new Mississippi law requires doctors who perform abortions in the state to be board-certified OB-GYNs. They also must have privileges to admit patients at a local hospital.

The law is regulatory in nature, but at a bill-signing ceremony in April, Mississippi Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves was clear about the intent.

"We have an opportunity today with the signing of this bill to end abortion in Mississippi," he said.

Now with the law set to go into effect on July 1, the Jackson Women's Health Organization — Mississippi's only clinic that performs abortions — is asking a federal judge to block enforcement of the law, arguing it unconstitutionally bans abortion in the state by imposing medically unjustified requirements.

If the law stands, Mississippi would become the first state without abortion services.

Jumping Through Hoops

"This is the canary in the mine," says Diane Derzis, president of the clinic in Jackson, Miss. She says the fight in Mississippi reflects a national trend of states imposing ever tighter restrictions on abortion.

"We're clearly losing," Derzis says. "These are all laws that they have passed through the years to try to close this facility down."

According to Derzis, all three of the clinic's doctors are board-certified OB-GYNs, but only one has hospital privileges. The other two have applied at seven area hospitals but haven't heard back. She says the clinic is trying to comply.

"We've been trying to jump through this hoop," she says. "We've just not had enough time."

Broader Implications

Republican State Rep. Sam Mims says the clinic has had more than 70 days to come into compliance.

"We believe, and I believe strongly, that if a person is going to receive an abortion, that if something goes wrong, we want that physician to be able to follow that patient to a local hospital," says Mims, who sponsored the legislation.

He says the state has a right to set rules for medical facilities, but at the same time, he acknowledges the broader implications.

"If this legislation causes this abortion facility to close," Mims says, "then I believe it is a good thing for Mississippi."

An Unconstitutional Ban?

Anti-abortion activists who pushed for the bill share Mims' sentiments about the clinic.

"Would we like to see this clinic close? Absolutely," says Terri Herring, president of the Mississippi-based Pro Life America Network. The only way that unborn babies will be safe is when abortion is no longer available, she says.

Abortion-rights groups are hoping a federal judge will step in and stop the law from taking effect. Michelle Movahed, staff attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights, says the law is motivated by the unconstitutional purpose of trying to ban abortion in Mississippi.

"The Supreme Court has been quite clear that [banning abortion is] absolutely unacceptable," Movahed says.

Barring a federal judge's intervention, a state health inspector is set to check Monday whether the doctors are in compliance with the new law. If not, Mississippi's only abortion clinic will be shut down.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Now to Mississippi and a showdown over abortion rights. Mississippi's only clinic that performs abortions is fighting to stay open in the face of new state regulations that could force it to close. The regulations take effect this Sunday.

As NPR's Debbie Elliott reports, abortion rights activists say the statute will result in an unconstitutional ban on abortion.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: A new Mississippi law requires doctors who perform abortions in the state to be board certified OB-GYNs. They must also have privileges to admit patients at a local hospital. It's regulatory in nature, but at a bill signing ceremony in April, Mississippi Lieutenant Governor Tate Reeves was clear about the intent.

TATE REEVES: We have an opportunity today, with the signing of this bill, to end abortion in Mississippi.

ELLIOTT: Now, with the Sunday deadline looming, the clinic in Jackson is asking a federal judge to block enforcement of the law, arguing it unconstitutionally bans abortion in Mississippi by imposing medically unjustified requirements.

If the law stands, Mississippi would become the first state without abortion services.

DIANE DERZIS: This is the canary in the mine.

ELLIOTT: Diane Derzis is president of the Jackson Women's Health Organization, the only abortion provider in the state. She says the fight in Mississippi reflects a national trend of states imposing ever tighter restrictions on abortion.

DERZIS: I mean, we're clearly losing. There is no question, we're losing.

ELLIOTT: Derzis says all three of the clinic's doctors are board certified OB-GYNs, but only one has hospital privileges. The other two have applied at seven area hospitals, but haven't heard back. She says the clinic is trying to comply.

DERZIS: I mean, these are all laws that they have passed through the years to try to close this facility down. We have jumped through every hoop they've put up there and we've been trying to jump through this hoop. We've just not had enough time.

REPRESENTATIVE SAM MIMS: They've had over 70 days to get in compliance with this law and they have not.

ELLIOTT: Republican state representative Sam Mims sponsored the legislation.

MIMS: We believe and I believe strongly that if a person is going to receive an abortion, that if something goes wrong, we want that physician to be able to follow that patient to a local hospital.

ELLIOTT: He says the state has a right to set rules for medical facilities, but at the same time acknowledges the broader implications.

MIMS: If this legislation causes this abortion facility to close, then I believe it's a good thing for Mississippi.

ELLIOTT: And that's the sentiment of anti-abortion activists who pushed for the bill. Terri Herring is president of the Mississippi-based Pro Life America Network.

TERRI HERRING: Would we like to see this clinic close? Absolutely. Because the only way that unborn women are going to be saved is when abortion is no longer available.

ELLIOTT: Abortion rights groups are hoping a federal judge will step in and stop the law from taking effect. Michelle Movahed is a staff attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights.

MICHELLE MOVAHED: The admitting privileges requirement - the law itself, actually - is motivated by the unconstitutional purpose of trying to ban abortion in the state of Mississippi. And the Supreme Court has been quite clear that that's absolutely unacceptable.

ELLIOTT: Barring a federal judge's intervention, a state health inspector is set to check Monday whether the doctors are in compliance with the new law. If not, Mississippi's only abortion clinic will be shut down.

Debbie Elliott, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.