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Mississippi's only abortion clinic sues over new law that could shut it down

Abortion opponents demonstrate outside Mississippi's only abortion clinic in Jackson on Wednesday.
Abortion opponents demonstrate outside Mississippi's only abortion clinic in Jackson on Wednesday.Rogelio V. Solis / AP

The only abortion clinic in Mississippi is going to court to try to block a new law that it says would effectively ban all abortions in the state.

The Jackson Women’s Health Organization on Wednesday asked a federal judge to issue an injunction barring House Bill 1390 from taking effect on Sunday.

The lawsuit contends the requirements of the bill, signed into law by Gov. Phil Bryant in April, are unconstitutional and would force the clinic to close.

“This measure would force Mississippi women who are already facing difficult circumstances to travel hundreds of miles to a neighboring state to get an abortion. That is simply not an option for many poor and working-class women, and will certainly lead some to consider unsafe and illegal alternatives that pose grave risks to their health, lives, and reproductive future,” Nancy Northup, president and CEO at the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights, which filed the lawsuit on the clinic’s behalf, said in a statement.

The law requires that any doctor who performs abortions at a clinic be a board-certified OB-GYN and have admitting privileges to a local hospital, an arrangement whereby doctors can refer patients to a hospital if further treatment is warranted.

The clinic says its doctors are having a hard time getting admitting privileges and won’t be able to do so by Sunday, either because they live out of state or because local hospitals are reluctant to grant such privileges to physicians who perform abortions.

Even so, that doesn’t mean the clinic will close anytime soon. The state Department of Health will inspect the clinic on Monday and it would have roughly 45 days after that to come into compliance with the new requirements, saidLiz Sharlot, a health department spokeswoman. It’s only after that period that the state could move to revoke its license, and the clinic could appeal any revocation.

“They will not shut down on July 2,” Sharlot told on Thursday.

“This facility gets the same due process and procedures provided by the law as any other health care facility.”

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Supporters of the bill have made it no secret that they would like to end all abortions in Mississippi.

Bryant, the Republican governor, issued this statement on Wednesday:

“Mississippi stands ready to vigorously defend House Bill 1390, which requires abortion providers to be certified OB/GYN physicians and have admitting privileges at a local hospital. This basic requirement goes to both the heart of women’s health care and protecting the lives of unborn children.”

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.

According to The Associated Press, abortion clinics operate in the four states surrounding Mississippi — Louisiana, Arkansas, Tennessee and Alabama. All four require a 24-hour waiting period before an abortion can be done, as Mississippi does.

"Some of the clinic’s patients may be able to travel to other states, but this can cause significant delays," the lawsuit states. "Women without the means to travel will not have this option, and accordingly may not be able to obtain a safe abortion at all."

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.

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