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Judge extends injunction, abortion clinic keeps license

JACKSON — A federal judge has temporarily blocked Mississippi from revoking the license of the state’s only abortion clinic.

U.S. District Judge Daniel P. Jordan III extended an injunction he issued several months ago, which blocks the state from closing the clinic while it tries to fulfill a 2012 state law.

The law requires all OB-GYNs who do abortions at Jackson Women’s Health Organization to have privileges to admit patients to a local hospital.

Jordan’s ruling comes three days before the state Department of Health was scheduled to hold a license revocation hearing for the clinic over its acknowledged inability to get the admitting privileges. Now the administrative hearing won’t be held, said health department spokeswoman Liz Sharlot.

Jordan’s ruling says the state cannot close the clinic while it still has a federal lawsuit pending to challenge the 2012 law. A trial date has not been set.

The Department of Health notified Jackson Women’s Health Organization in late January that it intended to revoke the clinic’s license. The clinic was allowed to stay open as it awaited this week’s hearing.

Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, praised the judge’s decision.

“While the women of Mississippi may be able to breathe a collective sigh of relief today, this fight is far from over,” Northup said in a news release yesterday. “We will continue our work to see this underhanded attempt to ban abortions in Mississippi struck down as a violation of women’s constitutional reproductive rights.”

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. Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley last week signed a similar requirement into law for physicians who work at abortion clinics in his state.

Clinic owner Diane Derzis told The Associated Press yesterday that Jackson Women’s Health Organization has been unable to get the privileges at any of the Jackson-area hospitals where it applied. She said she believes that’s in large part because hospital administrators don’t want anti-abortion protesters outside their facilities.

Even if physicians don’t have admitting privileges, a patient can be transferred from the clinic to a hospital emergency room, if needed. The clinic has said the customary practice is for a hospital to remain in contact with the physician who transferred the patient to the emergency room, regardless of whether that doctor has admitting privileges at the hospital.

The clinic is about two miles north of the state Capitol building, in a trendy neighborhood with restaurants, art galleries and clothing stores. The clinic was painted cherry pink earlier this year, a much more noticeable color than its previous faded mauve paint job. The clinic is separated from a street by an iron fence woven with the type of heavy black vinyl that’s used for easy-clean restaurant tablecloths.

Outside the clinic yesterday, abortion opponents prayed, sang hymns and used a microphone to call out to women who headed inside for state-mandated counseling. A longstanding state law requires women to be told certain information at least 24 hours before an abortion can be done. Among other things, a physician is required to tell women that abortion can increase the risk of breast cancer, a claim disputed by many medical professionals.

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