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Latest Court Filings Preview Arguments in Hearing Over Miss. Abortion Law

Latest Court Filings Preview Arguments in Hearing Over Miss. Abortion Law

July 9, 2012 — The potential impact of a new Mississippi law that threatens to shut down the state's only abortion clinic was debated in court filings on Friday, the AP/New Orleans Times Picayune reports. The law, which was slated to take effect July 1, is on hold and will be reassessed at a hearing on Wednesday (Wagster Pettus, AP/New Orleans Times Picayune, 7/7).

Operators of the clinic -- Jackson Women's Health Organization -- had expected it to be shut down on July 2 for failing to comply with the new law, which requires that its doctors be board certified in obstetrics and gynecology and have admitting privileges at a local hospital. If the clinic had been forced to close, Mississippi would have become the only state without an abortion provider (Women's Health Policy Report, 7/3).

Clinic's Latest Court Documents

Friday was the deadline for the opposing sides to file documents ahead of Wednesday's hearing. Attorneys for the clinic argued that it would face permanent harm as a result of the new law. "If all of the local hospitals deny privileges, it will then be even more clear that the act has not only the purpose, but the effect, of denying reproductive freedom to the women of Mississippi," they wrote.

Clinic representatives on Friday said it remains unclear if they will be granted admitting privileges for two physicians who live out of state and travel to the clinic to provide abortion care. If the law takes effect but the clinic is allowed to remain open, the clinic might still face retroactive penalties, the clinic argued.

"Citizens should not be required to disobey a statute in order to exercise their rights under the United States Constitution," the clinic's attorneys wrote, adding, "Given that the admitting privileges requirement is likely unconstitutional, it should be enjoined so that the plaintiffs are not in the position of having to close or having to knowingly disobey the statute as the price for staying open."

State's Arguments

State attorneys countered that the law was meant to protect women. The state has "substantial reason for concern regarding the health and safety record" of the clinic, they wrote, adding that the clinic's owner -- Diane Derzis -- also owned an Alabama clinic that was shut down for health violations. Derzis said on Monday that since she acquired the Mississippi clinic in 2010, there have been no incidents that required staff to call an ambulance, although they would call one if needed.

The state attorneys added that the clinic would not automatically be shut down because there is a 60-day compliance period under normal administrative procedures.

Jack Wilson, an attorney for Gov. Phil Bryant (R), also filed papers with the court on Friday. Wilson wrote that Bryant "is not concerned that enforcement of a valid, medically justified licensure requirement may result in the closure of a clinic that does not comply," adding, "But Governor Bryant's lack of sympathy for the abortion clinic is hardly a reason to strike down the requirement" (AP/New Orleans Times Picayune, 7/7).