| TUPELO, Miss., July 1
TUPELO, Miss., July 1 A federal judge on Sunday
temporarily blocked Mississippi from enforcing a new law that
requires doctors who perform abortions at the state's sole
abortion clinic to have admitting privileges at a local
The state law, challenged last week by the Jackson Women's
Health Organization, has threatened to make Mississippi the only
U.S. state without an abortion clinic. It was set to take effect
U.S. District Court Judge Daniel Jordan entered a temporary
restraining order and set a hearing for July 11 to determine
whether it should be extended.
"In this case, plaintiffs have offered evidence - including
quotes from significant legislative and executive officers -
that the act's purpose is to eliminate abortions in
Mississippi," Jordan found.
"They likewise submitted evidence that no safety or health
concerns motivated its passage. This evidence has not yet been
The law signed by Republican Governor Phil Bryant in April
requires all doctors performing abortions at a Mississippi
clinic to be certified in obstetrics and gynecology, as well as
to have admitting privileges at a local hospital.
"The federal judge's decision is disappointing, and Governor
Bryant plans to work with state leaders to ensure this
legislation properly takes effect as soon as possible,"
spokesman Mick Bullock said.
The clinic challenged the new measure as unconstitutional
for aiming to effectively ban abortions in Mississippi, and also
was seeking more time to comply with the law.
Doctors at the Jackson health clinic already are certified
in obstetrics and gynecology, but have not been able to obtain
privileges at any of the half dozen hospitals within a 30-minute
drive from the clinic, despite trying since early May.
Republican state Representative Sam Mims, who sponsored the
measure, said the law aims to protect women.
Clinic owner Dianze Derzis called it a political strategy to
ban abortion in Mississippi without having to challenge Roe V.
Wade. "It isn't about anything but putting that clinic out of
business," Derzis told Reuters.
The lawsuit, which was filed on behalf of the clinic by the
New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights, cited several
instances in which state lawmakers publicly voiced hope the law
would make Mississippi abortion-free.
State health department inspectors had planned to check on
the clinic's compliance with the law Monday, but no inspection
will take place, a department spokeswoman said.
Attorneys for the state health department said in court
papers the clinic had ample time in the appeals process to
explore options without seeking a court injunction.
But clinic attorneys said the clinic and its doctors would
be putting themselves at risk by performing abortions outside
the letter of the law - despite the appeals process.
"Today's decision reaffirms the fundamental constitutional
rights of women in Mississippi and ensures the Jackson Women's
Health Organization can continue providing the critical
reproductive health care that they have offered to women for the
last 17 years," said Nancy Northup, president and chief
executive at the Center for Reproductive Rights.
Mims said he was disappointed by the injunction, "but the
courts have spoken, and we'll let the legal process begin."
Mississippi already has some of the country's strictest
abortion laws and one of the lowest abortion rates. It also has
the highest teenage pregnancy rate in the United States - more
than 60 percent above the national average in 2010.
The state became a battleground for reproductive rights last
fall when voters weighed in on a constitutional "personhood"
amendment that defined life as starting at the moment eggs are
fertilized. Voters rejected the proposed amendment.
Thirty-nine other states also require that OB-GYNs perform
abortions, and nine others mandate hospital privileges,
according to the Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit organization
dedicated to sexual and reproductive rights.
The Jackson Women's Health Organization has been providing
services in Mississippi since 1996. The nearest clinics outside
the state are in Alabama, Tennessee, Arkansas and Louisiana.
(Reporting by Emily Le Coz; Editing by David Bailey)