Health Dept. Inspects Only Miss. Abortion Clinic | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Health Dept. Inspects Only Miss. Abortion Clinic

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — The state Health Department this week conducted an unannounced inspection of Mississippi's only abortion clinic to see if it's complying with a 2012 state law that eventually could put it out of business.

Findings from the Wednesday inspection aren't being released to the public yet, but clinic owner Diane Derzis said last week that her Jackson Women's Health Organization had been unable to meet the law's requirements.

Meanwhile, the clinic remains open as it goes through a lengthy process that's set out in a separate a state law governing administrative procedures.

Health Department spokeswoman Liz Sharlot said Friday that it is standard practice for findings of an inspection to be given first to any facility the department examines, whether it's a clinic, hospital, restaurant or day care center. The findings would later be made public.

"They got treated the same way as any other facility we license," Sharlot told The Associated Press.

Derzis has said the clinic missed a Jan. 11 deadline to comply with a law requiring every person doing abortion there to be an OB-GYN with privileges to admit patients to a local hospital. She said the three physicians who do most of the abortions at the clinic applied for privileges at several Jackson-area hospitals, but did not receive them.

Admitting privileges can be difficult to obtain, either because hospitals won't grant them to out-of-state physicians or because religious-affiliated hospitals might not want to be associated with physicians who do elective abortions.

The missed Jan. 11 deadline triggered the health department inspection. Findings from the inspection are being sent to the clinic by certified mail, Sharlot said.

If the clinic is found out of compliance, it has 10 days after it receives the letter to ask the health department for an administrative hearing. A hearing could be scheduled within a few weeks, Sharlot said.

Jackson Women's Health Organization filed a federal lawsuit just before the admitting privileges law was set to take effect this past July, arguing that the measure should be blocked because it would have the effect of making abortion largely unavailable in Mississippi. The clinic says that would be unconstitutional under Roe v. Wade, the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that established a nationwide right to abortion.

A federal judge allowed Mississippi's admitting-privileges law to take effect but gave the clinic several months to try to comply, saying the state could not impose civil or criminal penalties during that time.

Republican Gov. Phil Bryant, who signed the 2012 law, has said repeatedly that he wants Mississippi to be abortion-free.

Supporters of the law say it's designed to protect women's health, while critics say it's simply a guise to shut down the clinic where most abortions in the state take place.

If Mississippi physicians perform 10 or fewer abortions a month, or 100 or fewer a year, they can avoid having their offices regulated as abortion facilities. Jackson Women's Health Organization administrators have said most of the abortions in the state are done at the clinic.

The Health Department website shows 2,224 abortions were done in Mississippi in 2011, the most recent year for which statistics are available. Of that total, 2,180 were done on Mississippi residents and the rest were done in Mississippi on women from other states.

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