Skip to main content

Judge lets Mississippi's only abortion clinic stay open -- for now

By Rich Phillips, CNN
updated 8:32 PM EDT, Wed July 11, 2012
The Jackson Women's Health Organization is the only clinic that provides abortions in the state of Mississippi.
The Jackson Women's Health Organization is the only clinic that provides abortions in the state of Mississippi.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Judge issues temporary order allowing the clinic to stay open
  • The order will be in place until he can review rules on a new abortion law
  • The law, which took effect July 1, requires abortion providers to be ob/gyns
  • It also requires abortion providers to have privileges at nearby hospitals

Jackson, Mississippi (CNN) -- A federal judge in Mississippi on Wednesday ordered an extension of his temporary order to allow the state's only abortion clinic to stay open.

The order will be in place until U.S. District Judge Daniel Jordan can review newly drafted rules on how the Mississippi Department of Health will administer a new abortion law.

He then plans to rule on whether the temporary order will become permanent, or whether the clinic must shut its doors.

The law took effect July 1 and requires all abortion providers in Mississippi to be certified obstetrician/gynecologists with privileges at local hospitals. Doctors at Jackson Women's Health Organization, the only abortion provider in the state, come in from other states, and only one of its doctors is authorized to practice at a nearby hospital.

Clinc owner Diane Derzis says the issue is about politics, not protecting women.
Clinc owner Diane Derzis says the issue is about politics, not protecting women.
Decision on abortion clinic fate delayed
Abortion clinic fights to stay open
Planned Parenthood rep talks Miss. law

Supporters of the new law say it is intended to protect women from unscrupulous practitioners, but others say it's part of a move to outlaw abortions in the state. Even Republican Gov. Phil Bryant called it "the first step in a movement, I believe, to do what we campaigned on: to say that we're going to try to end abortion in Mississippi."

Who calls the shots on abortion laws?

Since the law went into effect, the Jackson Women's Health Organization has remained open under Jordan's temporary order blocking enforcement of the law. The clinic is trying to comply with the law, according to owner Diane Derzis, but it has been hampered by red tape and the cumbersome application process to obtain hospital privileges.

Derzis said the clinic has applied for privileges at seven hospitals within a 30-mile radius. One, a Catholic hospital, has already told the clinic "not to bother," she said.

The clinic is seeking a permanent injunction allowing it to stay open while it fights the law, which Derzis and other opponents say violates Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that struck down many state laws that restricted abortions.

"It's unconstitutional, frankly," said Amelia McGowan, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, which is against the new law.

If Jordan decides not to make his temporary order permanent, the state can begin a 60- to 90-day administrative process to begin closing the clinic for noncompliance with the new state law.

Officials at the clinic, which has been in operation for eight years, say they would have to choose between being shut down or risking civil and criminal penalties by continuing operations during an appeals process.

"We've been able to be with women at a time in their lives where they are in crisis, when they need to have something done and need that support," Derzis said. "That's why it has to be available. It has to be."

Philadelphia abortion clinic worker pleads guilty

Some backers of the bill say it is not an attempt to end abortion in Mississippi, but simply a way to protect women's health by ensuring physicians carry out abortions and follow the patients to a local hospital afterward.

"The governor has made it clear that he signed the legislation for the health and safety of women," said Steven Aden, a consulting attorney to the state. "So while he is pro-life, he also said that this is a health and safety provision. I don't see why that's hard to understand."

Despite some past minor citations, the Jackson Women's Health Organization has a very good record with the Mississippi Department of Health, an official there told CNN.

Mississippi is one of the toughest states for the abortion-rights movement. Its laws require a 24-hour waiting period and parental consent if the patient seeking an abortion is a minor. Seven other states require abortion providers to have hospital privileges, but no other state requires that an abortion provider be an OB/GYN, according to the Guttmacher Institute in Washington, a sexual and reproductive health organization.

"All of that is wrapped in that cloak of conservative religion," said W. Martin Wiseman, director of the Stennis Institute of Government at Mississippi State University.

"When you are in this state, you cannot separate an issue from religion," Wiseman said. "The normal rationale used in other states doesn't fly here. You'll find very few legislators -- regardless of whether they are white, black, Democrat or Republican -- who will say 'I'm pro-aborton."

Siri can't direct you to an abortion clinic?

Bryant signed the bill into law in April after the Republican-dominated legislature overwhelmingly passed it. Bryant said he signed the bill to support women's health, but he also says Roe v. Wade was wrongly decided and should be overturned. He has since filed a "friend of the court" brief in the case against the Jackson clinic.

Derzis said she believes that the real intent of the newly elected Republican majority was to end abortion in the state, not to improve women's health care.

"I love that it's white old men making those statements," she said. "This is not about safety. This is about politics, and politics do not need to be in our uterus."

Opinion: Mississippi's end run around abortion

Have an opinion about this that you'd like to share? Sound off on CNN iReport.

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT