published Friday, July 13th, 2012

Judge allows Mississippi abortion clinic to stay open

JACKSON, Miss. — A federal judge upheld Mississippi’s anti-abortion law Friday but said the state’s only clinic can stay open and will not face any penalties as it tries to comply with the new mandate.

U.S. District Judge Daniel P. Jordan III gave the clinic and the state each a partial victory with his ruling. The law requires anyone who does abortions at the clinic to be an OB-GYN with privileges to admit patients to a local hospital. The clinic’s two out-of-state OB-GYNS don’t have those privileges and have had difficulty getting them from local hospitals.

“The resolution of that issue will impact the ultimate issues in this case,” Jordan wrote.

The clinic, Jackson Women’s Health Organization, has said it could be forced out of business with the admitting privileges requirement, making it nearly impossible to get an abortion in the state.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled states can’t place undue burdens on, or substantial obstacles to, women seeking abortions.

The clinic said its OB-GYNs have applied for the privileges at most Jackson-area hospitals but haven’t received responses. When clinic employees called a Catholic hospital to ask about applying for privileges, clinic owner Diane Derzis said, “we were told not to bother.”

The clinic sued the state June 27 seeking to block the law. Jordan temporarily blocked the measure July 1, the day it was supposed to take effect. He heard arguments Wednesday about the clinic’s request for a longer injunction, and granted the request in part.

“The act will be allowed to take effect, but plaintiffs will not be subject to the risk of criminal or civil penalties at this time or in the future for operating without the relevant privileges,” the judge wrote.

Supporters of the law passed by the GOP-controlled Legislature this year said it’s designed to protect patients, and Republican Gov. Phil Bryant has said he hopes it will help make Mississippi “abortion-free.”

The state health officer, Dr. Mary Currier, filed a sworn statement in federal court Thursday showing how long it would take to fully implement the law if it takes effect. If the clinic is inspected and found out of compliance, it would get about 10 months to try to follow the mandates and to exhaust its administrative appeals with the Health Department. If the clinic loses its state license, it would then get more time to appeal.

The clinic says its physicians do almost all of the roughly 2,000 abortions that are performed in Mississippi each year. If Mississippi physicians perform 10 or fewer abortions a month, or 100 or fewer a year, they can avoid having their offices regulated as abortion facilities.

A spokeswoman for Pro-Life Mississippi, Tanya Britton, said of the judge’s ruling Friday: “It’s not a victory for the women of the state of Mississippi. This law was always about their health. If a woman is going to have an abortion and if people who perform abortions say they really care about the health of women, then they should want the best standard of care.”

The Center for Reproductive Rights, which is helping the clinic in the lawsuit, was preparing a response to the ruling.

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