JACKSON, Miss. — A federal judge on Wednesday decided to continue to block a state law that threatened to shut down Mississippi’s only abortion clinic and make it nearly impossible for a woman to get the procedure in the state.
U.S. District Judge Daniel P. Jordan III temporarily blocked the law July 1 and extended that order Wednesday, though he did not immediately say how long it would last.
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that states can’t place undue burdens or substantial obstacles to women seeking abortion. The law would require anyone performing clinic abortions to be an OB-GYN with privileges to admit patients to a local hospital. The doctors at the clinic in Jackson do not have those privileges, and the clinic says the privileges aren’t medically necessary.
Supporters of the law say it’s designed to protect patients. Republican Gov. Phil Bryant says he hopes it will help make Mississippi “abortion-free.”
The clinic, Jackson Women’s Health Organization, says it has been unable to obtain admitting privileges for its two out-of-state OB-GYNs because local hospitals have not responded to their requests.
The law was passed by the GOP-controlled Legislature and when Republican Gov. Phil Bryant signed it, he said: “If it closes that clinic, then so be it.”
The state’s attorney had argued that any anti-abortion statements by elected officials were “weak evidence” that the purpose of the law was to prevent abortions.
Terri Herring of the Pro Life America Network lobbied for the law and attended the court hearing. After the judge’s decision, Herring said the hospitals should deny admitting privileges for the abortion clinic’s doctors.
“There’s no vetting process for fly-by-night physicians who come in and perform abortions at the clinic,” Herring said.
The clinic uses out-of-state physicians because in-state physicians generally don’t want to face the social pressure of having protesters at their offices, homes or churches, clinic employees say.
Opponents of the law say any patient experiencing complications could receive immediate care from emergency room physicians.
The U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision in 1973 established a nationwide right to abortion. In 1992, the court’s decision in Planned Parenthood v. Casey upheld the Roe decision and allowed states to regulate abortions before fetuses are viable. But the 1992 decision also said states may not place undue burdens or substantial obstacles to women seeking abortion.
If the clinic closed, the closest clinics to Jackson are about 200 miles away, in Louisiana, Tennessee and Alabama.
Mississippi physicians who perform fewer than 10 abortions a month can avoid having their offices regulated as an abortion clinic, and thus avoid restrictions in the new law.