JACKSON Mississippi's sole abortion provider is taking its fight against a new state law that endangers its existence to the federal courts.
On Tuesday, June 27, the Center for Reproductive Rights filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court on the Jackson Women's Health Organization's behalf asking to strike down a recent bill, House Bill 1390, requiring that doctors performing abortions have admitting privileges at a local hospital and be certified obstetrician/gynecologists.
Michelle Movahed, CRR's lead counsel, said the clinic had hoped to avoid litigation, but a series of actions by Mississippi state officials forced their hands.
"I don't attribute any ill will to anybody, but certainly the elected officials in Mississippi have been engaging in a really pronounced public pressure campaign to make (the state health) department use this as an opportunity to close down an abortion clinic," Movahed told the Jackson Free Press Wednesday.
Despite the clinic's diligence, it was "impossible" to comply with the new requirements by the law's July 1 effective date, according to the complaint. And because Jackson Women's Health is the last abortion clinic left in the state, Mississippi women seeking abortions will have nowhere else to turn if the law takes effect if the courts do no step in, the plaintiffs say in court documents.
Read the full press statement by the Center for Reproductive Rights and other clinic backers and counsel.
Nancy Northup, CRR's chief executive officer, said the organization has "been beating back Mississippi’s underhanded tactics to close the only abortion clinic in the state” for years.
“Mississippi lawmakers’ hostility to women and their reproductive rights does not give them license to violate their constitutional rights," Northup said in a statement.
In 2004, CRR challenged a law that would have required second trimester abortions to be performed in hospitals and ambulatory surgical facilities. A federal court ruled the law unconstitutional.
State Rep. Sam Mims, R-McComb, who authored the original bill, HB 1390, sent a letter on June 20 asking the Mississippi State Department of Health to start enforcing the law immediately. On June 25, in a letter clinic owner Diane Derzis, DOH said the clinic had to comply with HB 1390 remain licensed and operate in the state. Movahed said if the department had followed its normal rule-making procedure, the clinic would have had until mid-August to come into compliance.
To back up its claims about a concerted effort from state officials to shutter the clinic, the lawsuit sites Gov. Phil Bryant, who voted “work to make Mississippi abortion-free,” and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves who said up HB 1390's passage in the Senate could “end abortion in Mississippi.”
Bryant posted a statement on his website Wednesday vowing claiming that defending the bill would protect women's health. "Mississippi stands ready to vigorously defend House Bill 1390, which requires abortion providers to be certified OB/GYN physicians and have admitting privileges at a local hospital. This basic requirement goes to both the heart of women’s health care and protecting the lives of unborn children," he wrote.
Mississippi Department of Health spokeswoman Liz Sharlot said she couldn't comment on the lawsuit, but said the agency would enforce regulations at the abortion facility consistent with other health-care facilities.
"They're entitled the same process, and they will have that same process," Sharlot said.