February 19, 2015 — Mississippi on Wednesday asked the Supreme Court to review a lower court ruling that blocked a state law (HB 1390) that could close the state's only abortion clinic, Reuters reports (Kaminsky, Reuters, 2/18).
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 (Women's Health Policy Report, 11/21/14).
Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood (D) asked the high court to consider whether the state law places an unconstitutional undue burden on women seeking abortions, given that adjoining states offer abortion services (Reuters, 2/18).
He wrote that the 5th Circuit's decision "effectively places the clinic beyond the regulatory reach of the state." Hood added, "Mississippi was one of many states to enact an admitting privileges requirement for abortion doctors, but there are two important distinctions in Mississippi: for several years Mississippi had already required doctors performing outpatient procedures other than abortion to hold admitting privileges, and Mississippi currently has only one licensed abortion clinic, which complains that it cannot comply with a rational health and safety regulation" (Wagster Pettus, AP/Jackson Clarion-Ledger, 2/18).
In addition, state attorneys said the Supreme Court should review the case because of the discrepancies in lower court rulings over admitting privileges requirements. Specifically, they noted that one 5th Circuit panel blocked the Mississippi law, while another upheld a similar law (HB 2) in Texas in a separate ruling (Carmon, MSNBC, 2/18).
Center for Reproductive Rights President and CEO Nancy Northup said in a statement, "The Court should decline to review the sound determination that Mississippi women would be irreparably harmed if the state were allowed to close its last clinic" (Reuters, 2/18).
She added, "This law is an underhanded attempt by anti-choice politicians to close the state's only abortion clinic. Mississippi cannot make a run around the constitutional guarantees of Roe v. Wade with a sham health and safety law."
According to the AP/Jackson Clarion-Ledger, it is not clear how quickly the high court will determine whether it will hear the case (AP/Jackson Clarion-Ledger, 2/18).
Supporters of abortion rights expect the underlying case to move forward at the trial court level later in 2015 if the Supreme Court declines to review the case, Reuters reports (Reuters, 2/18).