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Supreme Court ends legal fight over Mississippi abortion law

A physician at Mississippi’s only abortion clinic is praising the end of a legal fight over a state law that threatened to close the facility by setting a hospital-privileges requirement the clinic couldn’t fulfill.

However, Republican Gov. Phil Bryant still says the law he signed in 2012 — now blocked by the U.S. Supreme Court — was designed to help women.

Mississippi was one of several states with laws saying physicians who work at an abortion clinic must obtain privileges to admit patients to a local hospital. Mississippi’s law never fully took effect because of a protracted court battle.

The Supreme Court on Monday blocked a similar law in Texas, and on Tuesday refused to hear appeals involving admitting-privileges laws from Mississippi and Wisconsin.

Dr. Willie Parker travels from Birmingham, Alabama, about once a month to do abortions at Jackson Women’s Health Organization in Mississippi’s capital city. He and two other out-of-state physicians sought admitting privileges in the Jackson area, but their applications were rejected.

“There were hospitals that wouldn’t entertain them at all or they told us because we provide abortion care, we were not consistent with their mission,” Parker told The Associated Press in a phone interview Tuesday.

Parker said he believes the real goal of admitting privileges laws is to limit access to abortion, and he praised the justices’ decision not to hear the Mississippi case: “It’s the ultimate affirmation that we had always hoped for.”

Bryant, who has often said he wants to end abortion in Mississippi, issued a statement Tuesday focusing on arguments state attorneys made in court.

“This measure is designed to protect the health and safety of women who undergo this potentially dangerous procedure, and physicians who provide abortions should be held to the same standards as physicians who perform other outpatient procedures,” Bryant said.

Jackson Women’s Health Organization sued the state before the law was to take effect in July 2012, saying the requirement could block access to a constitutionally protected medical procedure.

U.S. District Judge Daniel P. Jordan III let the law take effect but prevented the state from closing the clinic while physicians sought hospital privileges. The state sought to overturn Jordan’s decision, and the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in 2014 that the law could cut off abortion access in Mississippi.

Terri Herring is Mississippi director for Americans United for Life. She said Mississippi’s law was based on model bills written by the organization. She criticized the Supreme Court’s rejection of the Mississippi appeal, but said she expected it after the ruling Monday in the Texas case.

“By stopping even the regulation from being enforced, it puts the court back in bed with the abortion industry,” Herring said Tuesday.

In written arguments to the Supreme Court in April 2015, attorneys for Jackson Women’s Health Organization said Mississippi physicians who perform “similar or less safe surgical procedures in their offices,” such as colonoscopy, hernia repair and hemorrhoid removal, are not required to have hospital admitting privileges.

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