CRR Files Motion To Protect Abortion Access In Mississippi After Hospitals Refuse Licenses to Providers

Lawyers are back in federal court challenging Mississippi's law that requires all abortion providers also have hospital privileges after hospitals refuse to grant those privileges.

photo courtesy of steakpinball via flickr

The Center for Reproductive Rights is back in federal court to prevent state officials from enforcing Mississippi’s unconstitutional new law designed purposefully to regulate the state’s only abortion clinic out of existence.

House Bill 1390, which was signed into law on April 16th this year and partially blocked by a federal judge in July, imposes a medically-unwarranted requirement that to legally perform abortions in the state, a physician must also be a board-certified obstetrician-gynecologist with admitting privileges at an area hospital. Despite the fact that all the doctors currently providing abortions to women at the Jackson Women’s Health Organization are board-certified ob-gyns, the physicians responsible for the lion’s share of the clinic’s patients have not been granted privileges by any of the hospitals in the area.

According to CRR and attorneys representing the clinic and physicians, several of the hospitals refused to even process the physicians’ applications, citing the hospitals’ own biased policies and practices towards abortion care as the basis for the denial.

Of course, this is what lawmakers had anticipated would happen when they first passed the bill, but back in July when the federal courts first heard the challenge to the law, U.S. District Judge Daniel P. Jordan III created a safe-harbor provision that blocked the state from imposing any criminal or civil penalties on the clinic, its staff, or its physicians while the hospital application process was ongoing and to give JWHO an opportunity to try and comply with the law. The state Department of Health gave JWHO until January to show that all physicians “associated with” the clinic have admitting privileges at a local hospital. There was no such order that required hospitals to grant those privileges, however.

“Anti-choice politicians were very clear that they had one in thing in mind when they passed this law: to shut down Mississippi’s only abortion clinic,” said Nancy Northup, president and CEO at the Center for Reproductive Rights. “It isn’t a surprise to anyone that the physicians at the Jackson Women’s Health Organization haven’t been able to obtain admitting privileges at any local hospital.

“Mississippi women have the same constitutional rights as any other women in the United States—they deserve far better than to be forced to travel hundreds of miles to another state to get a safe, legal medical procedure.”

The July ruling that allowed the law to take effect but blocked the state from imposing fines and penalties was a Solomonic attempt to find a settlement with anti-choice lawmakers and public health officials. Now that hospitals in the state have shown their unwillingness to put the needs of women and girls in the state above politics, the federal court will have to re-consider whether such a compromise is even possible and if not, how that affects its assessment of the law.

“This unconstitutional law has essentially handed over the fate of Mississippi women’s reproductive health care to hospital administrators,” said Michelle Movahed, staff attorney at the Center. “Dr. Parker and the dedicated staff and physicians at the Jackson Women’s Health Organization must be allowed to continue providing safe and legal abortion care without threat of closure.”

The Jackson Women’s Health Organization has served women and families in Mississippi for 17 years, and has been the sole reproductive health care provider offering abortion in the state since 2002. The next nearest clinic for Mississippi residents is approximately three hours away, with most neighboring states requiring a mandatory 24-hour waiting period. If anti-choice activists have their way though Mississippi will be left without any options when it comes to seeking safe, reliable, judgment-free reproductive health care.