A law that some Mississippi lawmakers hope will close the state's only abortion clinic goes into effect in less than two weeks, but that doesn't mean the clinic will close its doors July 1.
The law, which passed this year as House Bill 1390, requires doctors at abortion facilities to get staff and admitting privileges at a local hospital. Terri Herring, national director of the Madison-based Pro Life America Network, said regardless of whether the clinic's doctors can get the required privileges, it will take a while for the state to determine if the clinic is in compliance with the new law.
"The Department of Health will not come out and close down the clinic on July 1," she said. The department is scheduled to conduct its yearly inspection of the clinic in early August, Herring said, so it will probably evaluate the doctors' hospital privileges then.
"At that time, I think, even then if (facilities are) not in compliance, they're given time to comply," she said. If the clinic cannot comply with the law in August, Herring said the clinic's owners will likely file a lawsuit against the state to block the law's implementation, which could tie things up in court for a while.
When the law passed, Diane Derzis, who owns the Jackson Women's Health Organization, said she was willing to go to court to keep the clinic open. Betty Thompson, spokeswoman for the clinic, said last week that they are still waiting to find out if local hospitals will give their doctors the required admitting privileges, so she is not sure what their next move will be.
"We have not heard back from the hospitals," she said. "We are still working on that—just knee deep in that."
Michelle Movahed, staff attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights, said it's too early to speculate on what would happen if the doctors are unable to get admitting privileges.
"It's hard to get there right now," she said. "... The clinic has been working diligently to get privileges for the doctors, even though they're not legally obligated to do that, yet (because the law has not gone into effect). "
The center has partnered with the Jackson clinic on legal matters for several years, Movahed said. The center also represents advocates for abortion rights in other cases around the country. Movahed said Mississippi lawmakers' tactics are nothing new, but their forthright approach is.
"It's a really common strategy for anti-choice legislators to try and regulate the (provision) of abortion out of existence," she said. "I think what's unique about Mississippi is that prominent elected officials have been openly and unabashedly saying their intent is to close the clinic."
Herring, who got HB 1390 introduced and lobbied for its success, said doctors at ambulatory surgical facilities commonly have admitting privileges, and the abortion clinic should have them as well.
"They may not close July 1, but they're definitely going to have to come up to the medical standards that are a part of our community in order to stay open. And I don't know that they can't do that," Herring told the Jackson Free Press. "... We want them to be treated the same way as every other facility, but we don't want them to have special privileges like (not) having someone on staff at a hospital."
Herring, a longtime anti-abortion lobbyist, said she always anticipates a lawsuit, but she thinks there is a good chance that the courts will uphold HB 1390.
"We have a long history of challenges, but we also have a long history of victories in the courts," she said.