April 29, 2014 — The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday heard arguments over the constitutionality of a Mississippi law (HB 1390) that, if implemented, would close the state's sole abortion clinic, the New York Times reports.
The Mississippi law, like a similar law (HB 2) in Texas, would require that physicians performing abortions have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. The Times notes that the 5th Circuit previously ruled in favor of the Texas law, which it said does not impose an unconstitutional burden on women because abortion access would still be available in the state. However, the court could potentially reach a different conclusion in the Mississippi case because the state has only one abortion clinic, Jackson Women's Health Organization, according to the Times (Robertson, New York Times, 4/28).
In hearing arguments on Monday, a three-judge panel of the 5th Circuit "gave no indication when or how it would rule," but the judges did suggest that the Mississippi law might place an "'undue burden' on women," according to the AP/ABC News (McGill, AP/ABC News, 4/28).
Paul Barnes, an attorney with the Mississippi attorney general's office, argued that the state is "surrounded by major metropolitan areas where abortion clinics are available," adding that women could go to Louisiana or Alabama for abortion care. He said the law was designed to protect women's health and that Mississippi "has the same right to protect its citizens" as Texas (New York Times, 4/28).
However, Judge E. Grady Jolly told Barnes that he has "a steep hill to climb when you say the only clinic in the state is closing" (AP/ABC News, 4/28). He added that Mississippi "cannot shift its constitutional obligations onto other states," noting also that Alabama has passed a law similar to Mississippi's and that Louisiana is considering such a measure. Those laws could close clinics in the neighboring states, thus undermining the state's arguments about access, Jolly said. Meanwhile, Julie Rikelman, an attorney with the Center for Reproductive Rights, faced "fewer skeptical questions by the panel," according to the Times. Rikelman cited the Texas case, noting that the judges in that ruling had said that the challenge to the law would have been successful "if the effect of the law substantially burdened women's access to abortions in Texas" (New York Times, 4/28).
Rikelman also argued that forcing women to go to other states to obtain abortion care effectively denies Mississippi the power to regulate abortion providers (AP/ABC News, 4/28).