Rogelio V. Solis, Associated Press
JACKSON, Miss. — Mississippi could soon become the only state without an abortion clinic because of a new law taking effect this weekend. Critics say the law would force women to drive hours across the state line to obtain a constitutionally protected procedure, or could even force some to carry unwanted pregnancies to term.
Top officials, including the governor, say limiting the number of abortions is exactly what they have in mind.
Republican Gov. Phil Bryant frequently says he wants Mississippi to be "abortion-free."
"If it closes that clinic, then so be it," Bryant said as in April as he signed the law, which takes effect Sunday.
Abortion rights supporters have sued, asking a judge to temporarily block the law from taking effect. So far, that hasn't happened.
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.
Michelle Movahed of the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights is one of the attorneys representing the Mississippi clinic in its federal lawsuit. She said in an interview Friday that several states — including Mississippi, Kansas and Oklahoma — have tried in the past two or three years to chip away at access to abortion.
"One of the things that has really been surprising about Mississippi is how open the legislators and elected officials have been about their intentions," Movahed said. "They're not even pretending it's about public safety. They're openly saying they're using this law to try to shut down the last abortion provider in the state."
The lawsuit by the clinic, Jackson Women's Health Organization, notes that Republican Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves says on his website that the new abortion law "not only protects the health of the mother but should close the only abortion clinic in Mississippi."
Religious-affiliated hospitals might not grant admitting privileges to those who perform elective abortions, while other hospitals might not grant them to out-of-state physicians who travel to Jackson to work at the clinic. As of Friday, the final business day before the new law kicks in Sunday, physicians working at the clinic had applied for the admitting privileges but hadn't received them.
The clinic says in the lawsuit that the admitting privileges are not medically necessary. It says complications from abortion are rare, and it notes that under previous state law, it already had an agreement with a Jackson physician who didn't do abortions but has admitting privileges and would help any clinic patient, if needed. Bryant and legislators who pushed the new law said they believe it will be safer for a woman who develops complications if the same doctor who does an abortion at a clinic can accompany her to a hospital rather than handing her case over to another physician.
State attorneys defending the law said in court documents that "the immediate concern that the clinic may be closed on July 1 is ill-founded." They cited administrative procedures the state Health Department uses in activating new laws.
Health Department inspectors intend to examine the clinic Monday to see if it is complying with the new law, a department spokeswoman said. If the clinic is not in compliance — which the clinic itself acknowledges will likely be the case — it would have 10 days to file a plan to correct its shortcomings. Then, an administrative hearing would be held at least 30 days later, and there could be an unspecified time allowed for an appeal.
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