Future of Sole Abortion Clinic in Miss. Remains Uncertain

June 25, 2012 — The fate of Mississippi's only abortion clinic is unclear as the state readies to implement a law on July 1 that could force it to close, the New York Times reports (Robertson, New York Times, 6/22).

The law will require abortion providers to have admitting privileges at a local hospital and be board certified in obstetrics and gynecology. Diane Derzis -- who operates the clinic, Jackson Women's Health Organization-- has noted that it could be difficult for some of the doctors to obtain admitting privileges because they live out of state (Women's Health Policy Report, 4/17).

The clinic's physicians have applied to local hospitals for admitting privileges, a process that is likely to extend beyond the July 1 deadline. A spokesperson for the State Department of Health said that if state officials inspect the clinic on July 2, as planned, the clinic will have 10 days to develop a plan of compliance and "a reasonable amount of time" to implement the plan.

State Rep. Sam Mims (R), who sponsored the legislation, in a June 20 letter asked the state health officer to ensure that the law is fully enforced on July 2. He added that he expects any noncompliant clinics to "immediately cease performing abortions" until the requirements are met. On Friday, Mims said he is still discussing with legislative lawyers how quickly the state is allowed to act.

If the clinic is forced to close, Mississippi would become the only state without an abortion clinic. Nine other states require abortion providers to have local admitting privileges, according to the Guttmacher Institute. However, none of those requirements effectively ended abortion access, as they could in Mississippi, the Times notes.

Mississippi lawmakers have said the law is intended to protect women's health, but they also have openly acknowledged their greater goal -- to end abortion in Mississippi. "This is the only state where the proponents are this honest about what exactly their motivation is," said Michelle Movahed, a lawyer for the Center for Reproductive Rights, which is representing JWHO (New York Times, 6/22).