Mississippi abortion clinic to stay open for now but judge says law must stand
Both sides claim partial victory but district judge says temporary reprieve may not necessarily save Jackson health clinic
Jordan said physicians at the Jackson clinic were not at risk of being prosecuted or sued while they applied for the new licences
In a verdict handed down on Friday, US district judge Daniel P Jordan III decided that a law designed by the Republican-controlled legislature to create America’s first abortion-free state could stand.
But he gave the Jackson Women’s Health Organisation – the sole centre for legal abortions in Mississippi – additional time to adhere to the new conditions, which would compel doctors at the clinic to register as practitioners with privileges to admit patients to a local hospital.
Moreover, Jordan said physicians at the Jackson clinic were not at risk of being prosecuted or sued while they applied for the new licences.
Jordan said: “The act will be allowed to take effect, but plaintiffs will not be subject to the risk of criminal or civil penalties at this time or in the future for operating without the relevant privileges during the administrative process.”
The judge noted that the move will not necessarily save the centre.
“We do not yet know whether the clinic will obtain admitting and staff privileges,” he wrote, adding: “As both parties stated during the hearing, the resolution of that issue will impact the ultimate issues in this case.”
Both sides claimed a partial victory in the ruling.
Nancy Northup, president of the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights, which had petitioned the court for an injunction to the law, said: “The federal judge has provided crucial temporary protection for the clinic and its physicians.
“We will remain vigilant in our fight to ensure the clinic isn’t subject to penalties that would force its doors to close and deprive Mississippi women of their constitutionally protected rights.”
Meanwhile, Mississippi governor Phil Bryant said Friday he was “gratified” that the judge will allow the law to start taking effect.
“Mississippi will continue to defend this important measure as the legal process moves forward,” the Republican governor said in a news release.
The new law was due to take effect on July 1. But the clinic won an eleventh-hour reprieve from having to comply with conditions that supporters of the centre say were designed solely to force its closure.
Pro-choice campaigners have described the new rules as “medically unjustified”.
Doctors at the centre note that the number of women who experience a complication during an abortion that requires treatment at a hospital is extremely low – less than 0.3% according to the sexual health thinktank the Guttmacher Institute.
In any case, the clinic has an agreement with a local physician, who will admit the centre’s clients should the need arise.
Diane Derzis, owner of the Jackson clinic, has accused social conservatives in the state legislature of putting ideology ahead of women’s health.
“There has been no subtlety here – they are proud of the fact that the law would make Mississippi abortion-free,” she said in an earlier interview with the Guardian.
Certainly, top officials in the state have made no secret about wanting to shut the centre. Phil Bryant has said on a number of occasions that he doesn’t want abortions carried out in Mississippi.
“If it closes that clinic, then so be it,” Bryant said in April as he signed the new requirements into law.
If the Jackson clinic were to close, it would force women seeking terminations to travel hundreds of miles and cross state lines to have the procedure performed legally.
The nearest clinics to Jackson are approximately three hours’ drive away, with most neighbouring states requiring a mandatory waiting period and some, such as Louisiana, requiring two trips.
Derzis has said that if her clinic was to close, it would lead to a rise in vulnerable women going to non-registered abortionists.
At present, the clinic performs almost all of the roughly 2,000 abortions that are performed in Mississippi each year.
Judge Jordan noted in his ruling that the facility is seeking the hospital admitting privileges it needs to survive under the new strict rules.
He wrote that he was blocking the state from imposing penalties arising from non-compliance during the application process as the clinic would face “irreparable injury” if criminal or civil proceedings were allowed to take place.
“Given the highly charged political context of this case and the ambiguity still present, the court finds that there would be a chilling effect on the plaintiffs’ willingness to continue operating the clinic until they obtained necessary privileges,” he wrote.
gregorylnewton – Writing away with Blog.com