Mississippi's only remaining abortion clinic filed a federal suit Wednesday saying a new law aiming to close its doors is unconstitutional. The clinic states the law, which places further restrictions on its doctors, is simply a political method to outlaw the practice in the southern state.
The Center for Reproductive Rights filed the suit on June 28 on behalf of the Jackson Women's Health Organization, which has been operated in the state's capital for 17 years.
"Mississippi's latest attempt to shut down its one remaining clinic providing abortion services would effectively ban abortion in the state and is patently unconstitutional," a center press release stated.
"This law clearly threatens the health of women seeking abortions and deprives women of their constitutionally-protected right to decide when and whether to have children."
H.R. 1390, signed in mid-April by Republican Gov. Phil Bryant, makes it mandatory for any doctor performing abortions to be both a certified OBGYN as well as have admitting privileges at a local hospital.
Although all of the doctors at the Jackson clinic are already certified, the clinic itself has had trouble finding a hospital to grant it admitting privileges in the two months since the law was signed. Some hospitals have denied access for religious reasons, the clinic confirmed, while others do not want to allow doctors who operate outside of Mississippi to have admitting privileges.
Gov. Bryant and State Rep. Sam Mims, the bill's sponsor, both state the measure's purpose is to further protect Mississippi's women from doctors unqualified to perform certain services. However, pro-choice activists state the sole purpose of the law is to render abortion effectively illegal in the state, thus skirting federal law.
The center points out in its press release both Gov. Bryant and other state representatives have made statements seeming to confirm their intention to illegally outlaw the prosedure. Bryant, while vowing to sign the bill, said he would "continue to work to make Mississippi abortion-free."
State Senator Merle Flowers has also stated, "there's only one abortion clinic in Mississippi. I hope this measure shuts that down."
Although the law will not lead to the immediate close of the clinic, Rep. Mims did convince the Mississippi Department of Health to push up the enactment date of the law from August to July 1, 2012, meaning the clinic would have less time to find willing hospitals.
"The Jackson Women's Health Organization is already subject to some of the most onerous and burdensome restrictions for a reproductive health clinic in the country," said the Center for Reproductive Rights Staff Attorney Michelle Movahed.
"There is absolutely no reason, other than a politically-motivated one, for the health department to make this unprecedented eleventh hour decision to force the clinic to meet a requirement that is impossible to satisfy."
The Jackson Women's Health Organization, the sole clinic performing abortions since 2002, has faced similar pressure to close in the past. Mississippi also has some of the most rigorous anti-abortion legislation and access issues in the country.
According to the sexual and reproduction rights advocacy group the Guttmacher Institute, in 2008, 99 percent of Mississippi counties containing 91 percent of the state's women had no abortion provider.
In the state, public funding for abortions is only available in cases of rape, incest or fetal abnormality and women are required to receive counseling which includes anti-abortion options at least 24-hours before the procedure can be performed. All clinics performing abortions also have to have a state license to operate.
Twice in the 1990s, the state also tried to pass more stringent abortion laws, one banning abortions after the first trimester and another requiring doctors to complete an OBGYN residency.
The Jackson clinic will be inspected July 2 by the Department of Health. If the doctors present do not fill the law's requirements, the clinic will have 45 days to come into compliance. At that time, the state could revoke the clinic's license. Any revocation can be appealed.
The suit is filed under Jackson Women's Health Organization & Willie Parker, M.D., M.P.H., M.Sc. v. Mary Currier, M.D., M.P.H. & Robert Shuler Smith.
by RTT Staff Writer
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