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Mississippi's only abortion clinic petitions court to stay open

Mississippi's only abortion clinic will have to close unless a federal judge halts a new state law requiring its physicians to obtain admitting privileges to local hospitals, according to a court motion filed on Wednesday.

In the motion, the Jackson Women’s Health Organization renewed its request for a federal judge to prevent state officials from enforcing a law which went into effect on July 1.

Under the new law, the clinic must hire a doctor who is a board-certified OB-GYN and who also has admitting privileges to a local hospital where patients may be referred if further treatment is needed.

The clinic's providers are board-certified OB-GYNs, but the only one with admitting privileges when the law passed provides limited service at the clinic. Currently on the clinic’s website is a statement seeking a doctor who could perform abortion care for patients up to 16 weeks in the pregnancy.

Mississippi, which had as many as 14 abortion providers in the early 1980s, has some of the country's strictest abortion laws and one of the lowest abortion rates. It also has the highest teen pregnancy rate in the United States - more than 60 percent above the national average in 2010.

In 2010, the latest year for which figures are available, 2,297 abortions were performed in Mississippi with no deaths and one complication, according to the health department.

Any facility in Mississippi that performs 10 or more abortions a month or 100 or more in a year needs a license from the state. The Jackson Women’s Health Organization in Jackson has been the sole licensed abortion clinic in the state since 2002.

Supporters of the law have made it no secret they would like to end all abortions in Mississippi, although they have also said it was designed to protect women’s health.

"It is now clear that plaintiffs have no hope of being able to comply with the Admitting Privileges Requirement," said the filing by the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights, which represents the clinic in court.

The state Department of Health, tasked with enforcing the law, gave the clinic until January to comply.

But clinic owner Diane Derzis told Reuters she sent applications on behalf of all the physicians to every hospital within a 30-mile radius. All of the hospitals ultimately rejected the requests or refused to even consider them, she said.

Jackson Women's Health Organization, based in the city of Jackson, has operated in the state for 17 years and has been Mississippi's only clinic since 2002. Its closure would mean an end to elective abortion in the state and would force women to travel elsewhere for the procedure. 

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