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Miss. Abortion Clinic Flooded With Inquiries as Closure Threat Looms

Miss. Abortion Clinic Flooded With Inquiries as Closure Threat Looms

July 3, 2012 — Mississippi's sole abortion clinic -- the Jackson Women's Health Organization -- on Monday fielded dozens of inquiries from pregnant women across the state, the New York Times reports.

The clinic's operators had expected to be shut down on Monday for failing to comply with a new state law that requires that its doctors be board certified in obstetrics and gynecology and have admitting privileges at a local hospital. However, a federal judge late Sunday temporarily blocked enforcement of the law until a July 11 hearing. If the clinic had been forced to close, Mississippi would have become the only state without an abortion provider.

Although the clinic's physicians typically perform about 40 abortions weekly, last week it received more than 100 calls in one day from women seeking abortion care. Two of the clinic's doctors live out-of-state and will be in Mississippi this week to provide abortions, according to clinic owner Diane Derzis."What women are hearing is, you may not be able to have an abortion soon," she said.

Derzis said she would continue "business as usual" until the federal judge releases a final ruling. "It's a huge responsibility to be the only clinic in the state," she said, adding, "This is all that stands between a woman having to leave the state for an abortion" (Brown, New York Times, 7/2).

Mixed Opinions on Legal Prospects

The lawsuit -- filed last week by the Center for Reproductive Rights -- argues that the admitting privileges requirement is not medically necessary and is intended to force the clinic out of business. It notes that supporters of the new law have stated that their broader intention is to restrict abortion care (Women's Health Policy Report, 7/2).

Those statements would be difficult for the court to overlook, according to George Cochran, a professor at the University of Mississippi School of Law. He noted that the Supreme Court in 1992 ruled that states cannot enact laws that impose substantial barriers or undue burdens on a woman's right to an abortion. "The governor has publicly stated that the purpose of this law is to shut down the clinic. It's pretty clear," he said.

Terri Herring, national director of the Pro Life America Network, predicted that the law would stand. "Every pro-life law that has been passed in Mississippi has been challenged and followed by an injunction to stop enforcement," but they were eventually "upheld as constitutional," she said (Le Coz, Reuters, 7/3).

New York Times  Editorial Calls for Permanent Injunction Against Law

The predicament facing the Jackson Women's Health Organization is "unsurprising" given Mississippi's "hostile political atmosphere" toward abortion rights, a New York Times editorial states.

"The requirement is cast as a safety rule, but serious complications from legal abortions are exceedingly rare and area hospitals are already prepared to accept transfers by ambulance in emergencies," the editorial notes, adding that the law's supporters -- including Gov. Phil Bryant (R) -- "make no secret of its true improper purpose, which is to effectively end all abortions in the state."

The editorial urges the court to "extend the temporary injunction and then rule to permanently block the campaign to deny women in Mississippi reproductive freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution" (New York Times, 7/2).