Sun, Jul 15, 2012 - Page 9 News List

Judge grants more time to
US state’s only abortion clinic

The ruling gives the clinic time to meet Mississippi’s anti-abortion law which requires that only ob-gyns with privileges to admit patients to local hospitals may perform abortions

By Emily Wagster Pettus  /  AP, JACKSON, Mississippi

Illustration: June Hsu

A federal judge on Friday allowed Mississippi’s anti-abortion law to take effect, but said the state’s only clinic can remain open and will not face any penalties as it tries to comply with new requirements.

US District Judge Daniel Jordan III gave the clinic and the state each a partial victory with his ruling on the clinic’s request for a preliminary injunction.

The law requires anyone who does abortions at the clinic to be an obstetrician-gynecologist (ob-gyn) with privileges to admit patients to a local hospital. The clinic’s two out-of-state ob-gyns do not have those privileges and have had difficulty getting them from local hospitals.

The ruling gives the clinic time to seek the privileges during the next several months. Jordan wrote that the dispute over the law is a “fluid situation.”

“We do not yet know whether the clinic will obtain admitting and staff privileges,” the judge wrote. “As both parties stated during the hearing, the resolution of that issue will impact the ultimate issues in this case.”

The clinic, Jackson Women’s Health Organization, has said it could be forced out of business with the admitting privileges requirement, making it nearly impossible to get an abortion in Mississippi.

The US Supreme Court has ruled states cannot place undue burdens on, or create substantial obstacles to, women seeking abortions.

The clinic said its ob-gyns have applied for admitting privileges at most Jackson-area hospitals, but have not received responses.

When clinic employees called a Catholic hospital to ask about applying for privileges, clinic owner Diane Derzis recently said: “We were told not to bother.”

The clinic sued the state on June 27, seeking to block the law. Jordan temporarily blocked the measure on July 1, the day it was supposed to take effect. He heard arguments on Wednesday about the clinic’s request for a longer injunction and granted the request in part on Friday.

“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,” he wrote.

Jordan said that during Wednesday’s hearing, clinic attorneys said the facility would continue to seek hospital admitting privileges. He wrote that he blocked penalties because the clinic had shown it would face “irreparable injury” if criminal prosecution or civil penalties were possible if the clinic did not obtain the privileges quickly.

“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,” Jordan wrote.

Supporters of the law passed by the Republican Party-controlled Mississippi legislature this year said it was designed to protect patients, and Republican Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant has said he hoped it would help make Mississippi “abortion-free.”

Bryant said on Friday he was “gratified” that the judge would allow the law to start taking effect.

“Mississippi will continue to defend this important measure as the legal process moves forward,” he said in a news release.

US Representative Sam Mims, who sponsored the law, said he was also pleased Jordan allowed the law to take effect.

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