July 2, 2012 9:48:09 AM
JACKSON -- A federal judge on Sunday temporarily blocked enforcement of a Mississippi law that could shut down the only abortion clinic in the state.
U.S. District Judge Daniel P. Jordan in Jackson issued a temporary restraining order the day the new law took effect.
He set a July 11 hearing to determine whether to block the law for a longer time.
"Though the debate over abortion continues, there exists legal precedent the court must follow," Jordan wrote.
The law requires anyone performing abortions at the state's only clinic to be an OB-GYN with privileges to admit patients to a local hospital. Such privileges can be difficult to obtain, and the clinic contends the mandate is designed to put it out of business. A clinic spokeswoman, Betty Thompson, has said the two physicians who do abortions there are OB-GYNs who travel from other states.
The clinic, Jackson Women's Health Organization, filed a lawsuit seeking to block the law. The suit says the admitting privileges requirement is not medically necessary and is designed to put the clinic out of business.
If Jackson Women's Health Organization closes, Mississippi would be the only state without an abortion clinic.
When Republican Gov. Phil Bryant signed the law, House Bill 1390, he said he wants Mississippi to be "abortion-free."
"Gov. Bryant believes HB 1390 is an important step in strengthening abortion regulations and protecting the health and safety of women," Bryant spokesman Mick Bullock said in a statement Sunday night. "The federal judge's decision is disappointing, and Gov. Bryant plans to work with state leaders to ensure this legislation properly takes effect as soon as possible."
In the order, Jordan wrote: "Plaintiffs have offered evidence -- including quotes from significant legislative and executive officers -- that the Act's purpose is to eliminate abortions in Mississippi. They likewise submitted evidence that no safety or health concerns motivated its passage. This evidence has not yet been rebutted."
Jordan also wrote that Jackson Women's Health Organization is "the only regular provider of abortions in Mississippi, and as of the Act's effective date, JWHO cannot comply with its requirements."
The Center for Reproductive Rights, based in New York, helped file the lawsuit for the Mississippi clinic. The center's president and CEO, Nancy Northup, said in statement Sunday: "Today's decision reaffirms the fundamental constitutional rights of women in Mississippi and ensures the Jackson Women's Health Organization can continue providing the critical reproductive health care that they have offered to women for the last 17 years.
"The opponents of reproductive rights in the Mississippi legislature have made no secret of their intent to make legal abortion virtually disappear in the state of Mississippi," Northup said. "Their hostility toward women, reproductive health care providers, and the rights of both would unquestionably put the lives and health of countless women at risk of grave harm."
Republican Rep. Sam Mims of McComb, who sponsored the new law, said it is designed to protect the health of every woman who has an abortion.
"We know for a fact that this is a serious procedure," Mims said in an interview Sunday. "Women can have complications."
Mississippi physicians who perform fewer than 10 abortions a month can avoid having their offices regulated as an abortion clinic, and thus avoid restrictions in the new law. The Health Department said it doesn't have a record of how many physicians perform fewer than 10 abortions a month. Clinic operators say almost all the abortions in the state are done in their building.
The clinic says if it closes, most women would have to go out of state to terminate a pregnancy -- something that could create financial problems for people in one of the poorest states in the nation. From Jackson, it's about a 200-mile drive to clinics in New Orleans; Mobile, Ala.; or Memphis, Tenn.
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