April 24, 2015 — Attorneys representing Mississippi's sole abortion clinic in a brief filed Wednesday asked the Supreme Court to dismiss the state's case in defense of an admitting privileges law (HB 1390), MSNBC reports (Carmon, MSNBC, 4/22).
The law requires that physicians performing abortions in Mississippi have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. The physicians at Jackson Women's Health Organization sought admitting privileges at multiple hospitals but were denied, prompting the state to order the clinic to close for violating the law.
In July 2014, a three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in a 2-1 decision that the law would have illegally shifted Mississippi's constitutional obligations to other states by eliminating abortion access inside the state. The ruling did not overturn the law or assess whether the admitting privileges requirement is a justified safety measure. Rather, the ruling preserved an existing stay against the law and left the lower courts to consider the measure under the now-clarified principle of state responsibility.
In August 2014, Mississippi's attorney general asked the full 5th Circuit to review the panel's ruling. The full circuit declined to do so in November 2014, meaning the law remains on hold for now and Jackson Women's Health Organization can remain open while the underlying lawsuit proceeds.
Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood (D) in February asked the Supreme Court to review the 5th Circuit's decision (Women's Health Policy Report, 2/19).
Among other claims, attorneys for the state wrote that the intent of the law was to "level the playing field by requiring all doctors on staff at abortion clinics to meet the same professional licensing standards applicable to doctors in other areas of outpatient surgical practice."
CRR: State's Claims Are False
On Wednesday, attorneys for the Center for Reproductive Rights, which is representing JWHO, urged the high court to dismiss the case, contending that the state's claims are "simply not true."
The attorneys noted, "Mississippi physicians who provide similar or less safe surgical procedures in their offices, such as colonoscopy, hernia repair, hemorrhoidectomy, and dilation and curettage, do not need admitting privileges. Mississippi physicians can even provide surgery with general anesthesia in their offices without having admitting privileges."
The CRR brief also stated that Mississippi's appeal "has nothing to recommend it" because JWHO won in the lower courts based on a novel argument involving the clinic's status as the state's sole abortion facility. According to the brief, it would be easier for the Supreme Court to review one of the lawsuits against similar laws in other states (MSNBC, 4/22).