updated 6/1/2005 8:56:36 PM ET 2005-06-02T00:56:36

A federal judge on Wednesday struck down a Mississippi law that barred early second-trimester abortions at clinics.

The law would have required patients to go to hospitals or outpatient surgical facilities for abortions starting at 13 weeks’ gestation. Previously, abortions were allowed at clinics up to 16 weeks’ gestation.

The state said the 2004 law was aimed at improving patient safety, but opponents said it was an attempt to limit abortion in a state that has only one abortion clinic.

U.S. District Judge Tom S. Lee sided with the Jackson Women’s Health Organization — Mississippi’s one abortion clinic — and the Center for Reproductive Rights in New York in declaring the law unconstitutional.

The judge ruled the law was enacted “for reasons wholly unrelated to any actual safety or health concerns.” The state’s action made abortions “effectively unavailable in the state of Mississippi beyond the first trimester,” the judge said.

He said the state knew no abortion clinic was licensed as a hospital or ambulatory surgery facility. He also noted that public hospitals could perform abortions only in extremely limited circumstances.

“We saw this an attempt to limit abortion in Mississippi and to drive the only remaining clinic out,” Susan Hill, Jackson Women’s Health Organization’s president and CEO, said in a telephone interview from its corporate office in Raleigh, N.C.

Assistant Attorney General Jacob Ray said the attorney general’s office will ask Lee to reconsider his decision.

In documents filed with the court, the state argued the Jackson Women’s Health Organization could continue to perform early second-trimester abortions under a new law enacted by the 2005 Legislature; that new law takes effect July 1.

The judge said, however, if he did nothing, women in Mississippi would not have access to early second-trimester abortions until the 2004 law was repealed and the new law took effect — in 30 days. That lack of access, Lee said, “is unconstitutional as a matter of law.”

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