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Judge Allows Miss. Abortion Law To Take Effect But Delays Enforcement

Judge Allows Miss. Abortion Law To Take Effect But Delays Enforcement

July 16, 2012 — U.S. District Court Judge Daniel Jordan on Friday lifted an injunction against a Mississippi law (HB 1390) that threatens to close the state's only abortion clinic, but he blocked the state from enforcing civil or criminal penalties against the clinic while it tries to come into compliance, the New York Times reports (Robertson, New York Times, 7/13).

The law requires that doctors who provide abortion care be board certified in obstetrics and gynecology and have admitting privileges at a local hospital. Although the Jackson Women's Health Organization's three doctors are board certified, two live out of state and do not have admitting privileges. If the clinic was forced to close, Mississippi would become the only state without an abortion provider.

The law was supposed to take effect July 1, but Jordan temporarily blocked it. Clinic attorneys during a hearing on Wednesday argued that if its employees continue to perform abortions during the law's compliance period, they would be in "knowing violation" of the law and could face prosecution or revocation of their medical licenses (Women's Health Policy Report, 7/12).

Jordan said the plaintiffs had proven the law would cause "irreparable harm" if the penalties were enforced (Wagster Pettus, AP/San Francisco Chronicle, 7/14). "This order protects plaintiffs from the limited irreparable harm they have asserted, but allows Mississippi House Bill 1390 to take effect, at least for now," he wrote in Friday's ruling (McWhirter, Wall Street Journal, 7/13).

Jordan did not address the constitutional issues in the case but said that allowing the law to take effect would show whether the clinics' doctors could comply, which would affect its constitutionality. The clinic has applied for admitting privileges at seven local hospitals but has not received a response (New York Times, 7/13).

Reaction

Supporters and opponents of the law both claimed the ruling as a partial victory. Gov. Phil Bryant (R) said he is "gratified" by the ruling, adding that "Mississippi will continue to defend this important measure" (AP/San Francisco Chronicle, 7/14).

Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, which is representing the clinic, said in a statement that the "decision has ensured, for the time being, that anti-choice politicians in Mississippi cannot relegate the women of their state to a second class of citizens that can be denied their constitutional rights with the stroke of a legislator's pen" (Pettersson, Bloomberg/Washington Post, 7/14).