JACKSON — The owner of Mississippi’s only abortion clinic said yesterday she expected legislators to keep trying to put new restrictions on the facility and the procedure, regardless of how a federal judge rules in a fight over a new state law.
“They’ve made their intent quite clear,” Diane Derzis told The Associated Press. “They’re going to keep coming back. They’re not going to be satisfied until they have driven us out of business. I think everybody can see that.”
A day after a federal judge kept a restraining order against the law in place, employees at Jackson Women’s Health Organization were scheduling appointments for women seeking to terminate pregnancies. Derzis said it was a normal administrative day. Doctors do abortions there two or three days a week, but Thursday wasn’t one of them.
Because there were no patients, there were also few people praying or protesting outside under rainy skies.
A new law would require anyone who performs abortions at the clinic to be an OB-GYN with privileges to admit patients to a local hospital. The clinic filed a lawsuit June 27 seeking to stop the law, which it says creates unnecessary bureaucratic hurdles that could drive it out of business.
Judge Daniel P. Jordan III issued a temporary restraining order to block the measure on July 1, the day it was supposed to take effect.
On Wednesday, Jordan heard two hours of arguments about the clinic’s request for a preliminary injunction, which — if granted — would put the law on hold for weeks or months. Jordan extended the temporary restraining order Wednesday but didn’t indicate when he might rule on the request for a longer block.
The state health officer, Dr. Mary Currier, filed a sworn statement in federal court Thursday showing how long it would take to fully implement the law if it takes effect. If the clinic is inspected and found out of compliance, it would get about 10 months to try to follow the mandates and to exhaust its administrative appeals with the Health Department. If the clinic loses its state license, it would then get more time to appeal that loss to a state court.
Republican Gov. Phil Bryant said when he signed the bill in April that he wants Mississippi to be “abortion-free.” Derzis said Bryant’s statement, plus similar comments by Republican Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, show lawmakers were trying to eliminate access to a constitutionally protected medical procedure.
The law’s sponsor, Republican Sam Mims of McComb, is chairman of the House Public Health Committee. Mims sent the Health Department a letter in late June saying he wanted the department to quickly enforce the new abortion law starting July 1 because it was one of his priorities — a letter the clinic cites as an example of political pressure. Mims said Thursday that the law was intended to protect women’s safety.
“I go back to the fact that the committee, the Legislature and the governor signed a piece of legislation that was intended to improve the health care for women in Mississippi,” Mims said. “If a woman chooses to have an abortion in Mississippi, we believe it makes sense for a physician to be able to follow that patient to a local hospital just in case something goes wrong.”
Derzis said the two out-of-state OB-GYNs who work at the clinic have applied to Jackson-area hospitals but have received no response. The clinic’s attorneys told Jordan there’s no way to know when, or even if, the hospitals will consider the requests.
Admitting privileges can be difficult to obtain. Some hospitals won’t issue them to out-of-state physicians, while hospitals that are affiliated with religious groups might not want to associate with anyone who does elective abortions.
The clinic says its physicians do almost all of the roughly 2,000 abortions that are performed in Mississippi each year. 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.
At least nine other states — Alabama, Arizona, Indiana, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and Utah — require doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges in local hospitals, according to NARAL Pro-Choice America, an abortion-rights group. The states all have at least one abortion clinic.
“This situation is not simply isolated to Mississippi,” the group said in a statement. “These politically motivated restrictions are part of a broader attempt to make it even harder for women, especially those who live in rural or under-served areas, to choose abortion care.”
As the head of Personhood Mississippi, Les Riley of Pontotoc was active in a 2011 effort to amend Mississippi’s constitution to declare that life begins when a human egg is fertilized. The proposed constitutional amendment failed in the November election. Riley often prays outside the abortion clinic in Jackson, and he said in a phone interview Thursday that he wants lawmakers to continue pushing ways to regulate abortion.
“I think anything that legislators can do to make medical practices safer in Mississippi for patients, they ought to do,” Riley said. “Ultimately, our focus is answering the question of whether the unborn child is a human being.”