JACKSON — Doctors at Mississippi’s lone abortion clinic would be required to be certified in obstetrics and gynecology and have privileges to admit patients to local hospitals under a hotly contested bill that passed the House yesterday.
During a debate that lasted more than an hour, opponents argued the requirement could close the clinic in Jackson if no doctor could be found to meet the requirement.
About three-dozen representatives opposed the bill, arguing it would disproportionally affect poor women who would not be able to afford a trip to a clinic in another state.
“I don’t believe the Legislature should step into the confines of my home and tell me what I can and cannot do with my body. My body belongs to the good Lord and to my husband,” Rep. Adrienne Wooten, D-Jackson told the House. “Don’t come here and tell me you’re concerned about my health and my welfare. You’re not.”
The bill that passed on a 80-37 vote goes to the Republican-dominated Senate where its chances of passing are good.
House Public Health Committee chairman Sam Mims V, R-McComb, said hospitals have the right to refuse admitting privileges to physicians, so it’s possible that the abortion clinic would find it impossible to come into compliance with the legislation by the July 1 deadline. Two of Jackson’s hospitals have Christian affiliation.
Mims said that if the clinic could find a doctor who meets the requirements, the measure would improve the safety of women who receive abortions if they need emergency care. He said his ultimate goal is to eliminate abortion in Mississippi.
“If this bill causes less abortions to happen, I believe it’s a positive result,” said Mims, who said he would vote in favor of all anti-abortion bills going through the Legislature.
Wooten, however, said the male-dominated House had no business putting more regulations on abortion.
“Now, if you’re that concerned about unplanned pregnancies, go get snipped,” Wooten told the men in the House. “Why aren’t we over here with a bill about vasectomy? The number of concerns that could pop up that could cause me to consider an abortion, you don’t have the right to tell me I can’t seek this type of assistance.
“If you’re not ready to adopt a child that I may not want … you don’t have the right to tell me I can’t seek this assistance,” she said.
Diane Derzis, president and owner of the Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the state’s only abortion clinic, said one of the three doctors there has admitting privileges and all are OB-GYN certified. If the bill becomes law, she said there is still the possibility she will have to close.
“We’ve jumped through every hoop, we’re going to continue to try and do that,” Derzis said. “The people have already spoken against the personhood amendment. I hope the people of Mississippi tell their legislators to start dealing with things besides whether people are having abortions.”
The “personhood” amendment, on the ballot last November, would have defined life as beginning at fertilization. It was rejected by 58 percent of voters.
During the debate, Speaker Pro Tempore Greg Snowden, R-Meridian, refused to allow Rep. Willie Bailey, D-Greenville, to speak, prompting members of the Black Caucus to stand in support of Bailey, who eventually did have his say.
For the rest of the day, representatives repeatedly asked for bills to be read aloud, slowing proceedings to a crawl.
Legislators milled in and out of the House chamber while the bills were read, which sometimes took 15 minutes or more. By the end of the day, the clerk elected to use a computer program to read the bills, making the Legislature sound like it was receiving extended directions from a GPS.
Snowden said he and Bailey had “cleared the air” by the afternoon, though bills continued to be read aloud.
Wooten, who asked that some of the bills be read aloud, denied that the requests were a tactical move or in response to the morning’s events.
“We want to be knowledgeable about the legislation that we’re considering,” Wooten said.
The bill is House Bill 1390.