June 23, 2012 10:59:54 PM
JACKSON -- The sponsor of Mississippi's new abortion law wants the state Health Department to immediately enforce the measure when it takes effect July 1.
But the Health Department generally allows some time for any facility it inspects to come into compliance with a law.
New restrictions could shut down the state's only abortion clinic, Jackson Women's Health Organization, a few miles north of the state Capitol.
The law requires anyone doing abortions in an abortion clinic to be an OB-GYN with admitting privileges at a local hospital. Such privileges can be difficult to obtain, because hospitals don't give them to out-of-state doctors or because religious-affiliated hospitals might not give them to doctors doing elective abortions.
The clinic's spokeswoman, Betty Thompson, said Friday that the three physicians who do abortions at the clinic are all board-certified OB-GYNs. She said two of them have applied for admitting privileges at Jackson-area hospitals, and the third one will submit his applications next week.
The sponsor of the new law, House Public Health Committee Chairman Sam Mims, R-McComb, sent a letter this week to the state health officer, Dr. Mary Currier, saying there's no reason to delay enforcement.
"I am certainly aware that the Health Facilities Licensure Division is responsible for regulatory and enforcement duties on many types of facilities and does so with a limited number of employees," Mims wrote in the letter, which he also sent to The Associated Press. "However, as the author of HB1390, this legislation was one of my priorities as chairman of the Public Health and Human Services Committee, and I consider it an important accomplishment."
July 1 is on a Sunday, when most state government offices are closed. The clinic is also closed on Sundays, according to its website.
Health Department spokesman Liz Sharlot said the clinic could be inspected Monday, July 2.
"We will be inspecting the facility as soon as the law goes into effect to ensure the facility is in compliance," Sharlot said Friday.
Sharlot said if the clinic is found not to be in compliance, it gets 10 working days to submit a plan of corrections, outlining how it would meet the requirements of the law.
The clinic's owner, Diane Derzis, has said she will file a lawsuit if the clinic is unable to comply with the new law.
Thompson said Friday that hospitals have been "very cordial" in providing information about how the clinic's doctors can apply for admitting privileges, but no application has been accepted.
"I know that games are being played," Thompson said. "We will not get any information before July 1, it appears."
She said if the clinic closes, about 10 employees could be out of work.
"Above all, we have patients that are not going to be seen and it's going to be difficult for them to have another resource," Thompson said.
If Jackson Women's Health Organization closes, most women would have to go out of state for abortion, Thompson said. If Mississippi physicians perform 10 or fewer abortions a month, or 100 or fewer a year, they can avoid having their offices regulated as abortion facilities. But Thompson said it could be difficult for a patient to find a doctor willing to do an elective abortion.
"That's not realistic," she said.
The Mississippi State Department of Health website shows 2,297 abortions, listed as "induced terminations," were performed in the state in 2010, the most recent year for which statistics were available. Of that number, 2,251 were performed on Mississippi residents. The site does not specify how many were done at the clinic and how many in other offices or hospitals.