August 28, 2013 9:36:11 AM
JACKSON -- Mississippi will ask a federal appeals court to overturn a ruling that has temporarily blocked authorities from closing the state's only abortion clinic. And, Attorney General Jim Hood said he's hoping to get an indication from the appeals court on whether the state will be successful in defending the 2012 law that threatens to close the clinic, even before a dispute goes to trial.
U.S. District Judge Daniel P. Jordan III ruled in April that the state couldn't close Jackson Women's Health Organization while the clinic still has a federal lawsuit pending.
The state filed a notice on Friday that it will ask the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans to overturn Jordan's decision.
The clinic's lawsuit, filed last summer in U.S. District Court in Jackson, challenges a 2012 state law that requires each OB-GYN who does abortions at the clinic to have admitting privileges at a local hospital. So far, the clinic has been unable to obtain the privileges.
Supporters of the law, including Republican Gov. Phil Bryant, say it's designed to protect women's health, but opponents say it's designed to close the clinic and cut off access to abortion.
Jordan allowed the law to take effect in July 2012, but he blocked the state from closing the clinic while the clinic tried to get admitting privileges. Such privileges can be difficult to obtain, because hospitals often won't give them to out-of-state physicians. The clinic uses out-of-state OB-GYNs, including one from Chicago.
Hood, whose office is defending the law, said Tuesday that he's trying to gauge whether the state will ultimately be successful in pursuing a legal strategy of arguing that the law was written to protect women's health. He said if the 5th Circuit affirms Jordan's April ruling, that might indicate that the state's approach wouldn't succeed at trial or on appeal.
"It gives us an opportunity to look at what the court would do," Hood told The Associated Press. "It's about trying to protect taxpayers' money."
The lawsuit is scheduled for trial March 3 in Jackson.
Hood said if the 5th Circuit indicates the state won't be successful at trial, he'd evaluate whether the state should keep defending the law. If the state loses, it would pay the clinic's attorneys' fees, he said.
Hood, the only Democrat in statewide office, said he hasn't talked to Bryant or the law's chief sponsor, Republican Rep. Sam Mims, of McComb, about the latest developments in the case, and he didn't know whether his staff had been in touch with them.
Asked if he's concerned he'd face political backlash if the state stops defending the admitting-privileges law, Hood told AP: "I'm sure there are people who want to fight a losing cause just to make a point. I don't do that.... I don't see going out and spending the people's money just for political gain."
Contacted Tuesday by AP, clinic owner Diane Derzis deferred comment to the Center for Reproductive Rights, a New York-based group that represents the clinic in its lawsuit. Bebe Anderson, an attorney who is director of the U.S. legal program for the center, said in a phone interview that Mississippi has been trying to shut down the clinic.
"We would hope that the 5th Circuit will uphold the well-reasoned decision by the district court judge," Anderson said.
With only one abortion clinic remaining open in the state, Anderson said, "obviously, the stakes are high for women in Mississippi."
Mims said Tuesday that he continues to believe the law is constitutional.
"The intent of the law is clear," Mims said. "We believe this is a health care issue for women."