JACKSON — Mississippi’s only abortion clinic is scheduled for an April 18 license revocation hearing before the state Department of Health, and officials say a decision could come days or weeks later.
The Health Department told the clinic in late January that it intends to take away its license because the facility had failed to fulfill requirements of a 2012 state law. The Center for Reproductive Rights said Wednesday that the Jackson Women’s Health Organization had received notice of the hearing date.
Health Department spokeswoman Liz Sharlot told The Associated Press that an administrative officer will conduct the hearing open to the public at 9 a.m. at the Health Department headquarters in Jackson.
The law says anyone who does abortions at the clinic must be an OB-GYN with privileges to admit patients at a Jackson-area hospital. Clinic owner Diane Derzis has said no local hospital would grant the privileges to the out-of-state OB-GYNs who work at the clinic.
“They were clear that they didn’t deal with abortion and they didn’t want the internal or the external pressure of dealing with it,” Derzis told AP on Jan. 11.
As for a decision: “It could be two to four weeks or more, depending on the amount of information presented,” Sharlot said.
The clinic is allowed to stay open while appealing its license revocation.
For 40 days this year, starting in January, abortion opponents prayed and held church services outside the clinic, trying to persuade women not to terminate their pregnancies. Clinic supporters have also stood outside the building holding signs in favor of reproductive choice.
The clinic’s former beige paint job was replaced with hot pink several weeks ago, making it more noticeable in Jackson’s Fondren neighborhood, an area of trendy restaurants and clothing stores about two miles north of the Capitol building.
Republican Gov. Phil Bryant, who signed the 2012 law, has said repeatedly that he wants Mississippi to be abortion-free and that he’d shut the clinic if he had the power to do it.
Supporters of the law say it’s intended to protect women’s safety. Opponents say admitting privileges are unnecessary because the clinic has an agreement to transfer patients to a local hospital if an emergency arises; the patients would be tended by physicians on duty at the hospital.
The clinic filed a federal lawsuit last summer as the law was about to take effect, arguing that it is unconstitutional because it would effectively block women’s access to abortion in Mississippi by closing the facility where most of the 2,000-plus abortions a year are performed in the state. A 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Roe vs. Wade established the nationwide right to abortion.
U.S. District Judge Daniel P. Jordan III gave the facility time to try to comply with the law, blocking any criminal or civil penalties during that period. Clinic attorneys are asking Jordan to extend that time.
The clinic filed a plan with the state Health Department showing that it intended to seek admitting privileges for its physicians, and the department allowed six months for that process, until Jan. 11. A Jan. 16 inspection was triggered by the clinic’s missing the Jan. 11 deadline.
The Health Department wrote a letter Jan. 24 that was delivered to the clinic the next day, showing the findings of the inspection. The department noted that none of the three physicians affiliated with the clinic have local hospital admitting privileges. It said one of the physicians previously had the privileges, but those had expired July 27.
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