JACKSON — Mississippi is asking a federal appeals court to uphold a 2012 state law requiring abortion clinic doctors to obtain hospital admitting privileges.
In late July, a panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 that the law is unconstitutional because it would close Mississippi’s only abortion clinic.
Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood filed papers yesterday asking the full court to reverse the three-judge panel’s ruling and allow Mississippi to enforce the law.
It was not immediately clear when the full court would consider the request.
The abortion clinic, Jackson Women’s Health Organization, uses out-of-state physicians who travel to Mississippi several times a month. They applied for admitting privileges at Jackson-area hospitals, but clinic owner Diane Derzis said they did not receive responses. Many hospitals, including some with religious affiliation, ignore or reject applications from abortion clinic doctors and won’t grant privileges to out-of-state physicians.
The U.S. Supreme Court established a constitutional right to abortion in its 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. On July 29, the 5th Circuit panel ruled that Mississippi may not shift its obligation for established constitutional rights of its citizens to another state.
The Jackson clinic remains open, and for years it has had an agreement with a local physician who will meet a patient at a Jackson hospital in case of complications. Derzis has said such complications are rare.
Republican Gov. Phil Bryant has said he wants to end abortion in Mississippi and he wants to go to the U.S. Supreme Court, if necessary, to try to uphold the admitting privileges law. He and other supporters say the law would protect women’s health by ensuring that a physician who performs an abortion in a clinic would also be able to treat the patient in a hospital in case of complications.
Opponents say the requirement is unnecessary, since patients in distress are automatically treated in emergency rooms, and that it gives religious-affiliated hospitals veto power over who can work in an abortion clinic and, by extension, whether a clinic can stay in business.
Ten other states have similar admitting privileges laws that have forced a growing number of clinics to close.
The 5th Circuit handles cases from Mississippi, Texas and Louisiana and is one of the most conservative federal appeals courts.
In asking all 15 judges on the 5th Circuit to reconsider the Mississippi case, Hood wrote yesterday that a different group of 5th Circuit judges earlier this year allowed a Texas admitting privileges law to take effect.
Texas, the second-largest state in the nation, has 18 remaining abortion clinics, but more than 20 have closed since enactment of the 2013 law that includes the admitting privileges requirement.
Hood wrote that under 5th Circuit panels’ rulings in the Mississippi and Texas cases, “traveling 25 miles from Hernando, Mississippi, to a clinic in Memphis, Tennessee, is an undue burden, but a 150-mile trip from McAllen, Texas, to Corpus Christi is not. This result is not only counterintuitive, but also flatly contradicts the reality that the majority of women in Mississippi already travel to other states to obtain abortions.”
Hood’s filing did not provide statistics to back up the assertion that most Mississippi women who have an abortion go out of state for the procedure.