Fifth Circuit Court Continues to Block Mississippi Anti-Abortion Regulation, State’s Only Clinic to Remain Open While Legal Battle Continues

(PRESS RELEASE) A panel of judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit today upheld a preliminary injunction blocking a Mississippi law designed to close the last remaining abortion clinic in the state—ensuring the Jackson Women’s Health Organization can remain open and continue to provide safe, legal care to its patients pending the outcome of the legal battle.

The measure forces any physician who provides abortion services to adhere to an arbitrary and medically unwarranted requirement to obtain admitting privileges at a local hospital.  Today’s decision affirms that “Mississippi may not shift its obligation to respect the established constitutional rights of its citizens to another state.”

Following a lawsuit brought by the Center for Reproductive Rights on behalf of the Jackson Women’s Health Organization and Dr. Willie Parker, the law was partially blocked in July 2012 and later fully blocked in April 2013—barring the state from imposing criminal and civil penalties on the clinic doctors and staff pending the outcome of the litigation.  A three judge panel of the Fifth Circuit heard arguments on the preliminary injunction in April 2014.

Said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights:

“Today’s ruling ensures women who have decided to end a pregnancy will continue, for now, to have access to safe, legal care in their home state.

“But there is still only one clinic in the entire state, and it is still threatened by a law advanced by politicians over the opposition of respected medical organizations, with the sole intent of closing that clinic permanently.

“For far too long, women in Mississippi have been teetering on the precipice of a reality similar to the dark days before Roe v. Wade, where reproductive health care options were limited at best and life-threatening at worst. This is unacceptable, unconstitutional, and contrary to the consensus of the strong majority of Americans who do not wish to see Roe’s constitutional protections overturned.

“The promise of the U.S. Constitution is one that ensures all of our rights are protected no matter where we happen to live. We will continue this fight to ensure the fundamental rights established by the U.S. Supreme Court more than 40 years ago remain a reality for women in Mississippi and across the country.”

The measure, which was advanced by anti-choice politicians, not doctors, forces any physician performing abortions in the state to have admitting privileges at an area hospital— a requirement that is often difficult to meet because of some  hospitals’ inclination to deny admitting privileges to abortion providers for political or other reasons not related to the doctors’ qualifications.  Both the American Medical Association (AMA) and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) oppose hospital admitting privileges as a requirement for physicians providing abortion services and medical experts confirm that abortion care has a 99% safety record, with less than 1% of patients experiencing any complications and even fewer requiring further treatment at a hospital.

Although all the doctors currently providing abortions to women at the Mississippi clinic are board-certified ob-gyns, the physicians responsible for providing abortions to the vast majority of the clinic’s patients have been unable to obtain privileges at any hospital in the area—in fact, no hospital would even process the physicians’ applications, with several hospitals citing their policies on abortion care.

The Jackson Women’s Health Organization has served women and families in Mississippi for over 17 years, and has been the sole reproductive health care provider offering abortion in the state since 2002. The next nearest clinics for Mississippi residents are approximately three hours away, with most neighboring states requiring a mandatory 24-hour waiting period. 

The Center filed the suit on behalf of Jackson Women’s Health Organization & Willie Parker, M.D., M.P.H., M.Sc. v. Mary Currier, M.D., M.P.H. & Robert Shuler Smith, with Julie Rikelman as lead counsel, along with co-counsel Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP and Robert B. McDuff in Jackson, Mississippi.

Harmful and unconstitutional restrictions like these further underscore the need for the federal Women's Health Protection Act (S. 1696/H.R. 3471)—a bill that would prohibit states like Mississippi from imposing unconstitutional restrictions on reproductive health care providers that apply to no similar medical care, interfere with women’s personal decision making, and block access to safe and legal abortion services. 

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