* Clinic sees typical day after injunction
* Court case could takes months or years
* Legality of law subject to debate
By Emily Le Coz
TUPELO, Miss., July 2 Mississippi's lone
abortion clinic opened without incident on Monday after a
last-minute court ruling prevented the state from enforcing a
new law that could have forced it to close.
The Jackson Women's Health Organization had struggled to
meet the demands of the controversial law that took effect on
Sunday ahead of a state inspection scheduled for Monday.
But the inspection was scuttled when a federal judge on
Sunday temporarily barred the state from requiring doctors who
perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a local
Experts said the legal fight could take months or years to
The ruling resulted in a routine day instead of a showdown
for the clinic in Jackson, Mississippi's state capital. There
were no abortions scheduled on Monday, but protesters stood
outside as they do nearly every day, said clinic owner Diane
"It's just like it always is," she said. "There's nothing
different here today."
Attorneys for the clinic and the state will present their
cases to a federal judge on July 11 on whether the temporary
injunction should be extended.
The clinic argues that Mississippi's new law violates the
constitution by placing undue restrictions on abortions.
Clinic doctors have not been able to obtain the necessary
admitting privileges from any of the half-dozen hospitals within
a 30-minute drive, despite trying since May, said clinic
spokeswoman Betty Thompson.
The Mississippi Department of Health, named as a defendant
in the case, argues that the clinic has had ample time to comply
and would not face closure until it had exhausted an appeals
process that could last at least two months.
The law has threatened to make Mississippi the only U.S.
state without an abortion clinic and is expected to face an
extended legal challenge. Abortion is a divisive issue in the
United States that has long sparked heated debate.
"Both sides are passionate enough that it will be appealed
to the Fifth Circuit, and from there, it's not very hard at all
to conceive a leap to the U.S. Supreme Court," said Marty
Wiseman, a political analyst at Mississippi State University in
Starkville. "That will be several years down the road."
MIXED OPINIONS ON LEGALITY
Opinions differed on Monday as to whether the law would
eventually be upheld.
Terri Herring, national director of the Pro Life America
Network, based on Madison, Mississippi, p redicted it would
"Every pro-life law that has been passed in Mississippi has
been challenged and followed by an injunction to stop
enforcement," Herring said. "All of our laws, though, have
eventually been upheld as constitutional."
Among them is a 1986 requirement that minors seeking
abortions obtain parental consent and a 2004 mandate that
abortion clinics be licensed as facilities that provide
optional, outpatient surgical procedures. Both laws withstood
legal challenges, though lawmakers ultimately modified the 2004
measure, allowing the Jackson Women's Health Organization to
stay open, Herring said.
However, public comments by elected state leaders expressing
their hope that the new law would close the Jackson clinic will
make it difficult for the court to uphold it, said
constitutional law expert George Cochran, a professor at the
University of Mississippi School of Law in Oxford.
Cochran said the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1992 that
states cannot pass laws posing substantial obstacles or undue
burdens on a woman's right to an abortion. Mississippi's new law
attempts to do just that, he said.
"I think there's a high probability that the plaintiffs will
prevail," he said. "The governor has publicly stated that the
purpose of this law is to shut down the clinic. It's pretty
Mississippi, which once had as many as 14 abortion clinics,
has some of America'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.
Mississippi reported 55 births per 1,000 teens aged 15 to 19
in 2010, according to the Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention. Nationally, the teen birth rate dropped 9 percent
from 2009 to 2010 to a historic low of 34.3 births per 1,000.
Mississippi became a battleground for reproductive rights in
November when voters weighed in on a constitutional "personhood"
amendment that defined life as starting at the moment eggs are
fertilized. Voters rejected the amendment.
The legislation passed by state lawmakers this spring
required abortion providers to be board-certified in obstetrics
and gynecology - in addition to having staff with admitting
privileges at a nearby hospital.
Thirty-nine other states require that OB-GYNs perform
abortions, and nine others mandate hospital privileges,
according to the Guttmacher Institute, a non-profit organization
dedicated to sexual and reproductive rights.
The Jackson Women's Health Organization has been operating
in Mississippi since 1996, and its doctors perform about 2,000
abortion procedures a year. If it were to close, the nearest
clinics are in Alabama, Tennessee, Arkansas and Louisiana.
(Editing by Colleen Jenkins and; David Brunnstrom)