Mississippi Asks Supreme Court to Review State’s Clinic Shutdown Law

Law blocked by appellate court threatens to shutter last clinic in the state, abortion access in region already devastated by similar restrictions

(PRESS RELEASE) Mississippi has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review a decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit blocking a law designed to close the last remaining abortion clinic in the state.

Today’s filing follows the U.S. Fifth Circuit’s decision to uphold a lower court’s decision to block the law—which forces a physician performing abortions at a clinic to have admitting privileges at a local hospital—from taking effect pending the outcome of the case

Admitting privileges requirements—which are designed by anti-choice politicians as an underhanded way to shutter high-quality clinics and severely limit abortion services—have already devastated abortion access across the South.  Numerous clinics have already been forced to close due to the clinic shutdown law in Texas, and abortion providers in LouisianaOklahoma, and Alabama are hanging on by the thread of a court order.

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

“There is no reason for the U.S. Supreme Court to step into this case.

“This law is an underhanded attempt by anti-choice politicians to close the state’s only abortion clinic. Mississippi cannot make a run-around the constitutional guarantees of Roe v. Wade with a sham health and safety law.

"The Court should decline to review the sound determination that Mississippi women would be irreparably harmed if the state were allowed to close its last clinic.”

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.

Medical experts confirm that legal abortion care in the U.S. is extremely safe, with less than a quarter of 1 percent of patients experiencing a major complication.  Furthermore, privileges can be impossible to obtain due to individual hospital policies or biases toward abortion providers for reasons not related to the doctors’ qualifications.

Major medical groups oppose laws like Mississippi’s that require hospital admitting privileges for physicians providing abortion services. In an amicus brief filed in the challenge to Texas’ admitting privileges requirement, the American Medical Association (AMA) and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) write that the law “jeopardizes women’s health in Texas,” doing “nothing to protect the health of women.”

The Jackson Women’s Health Organization has served women and families in Mississippi for nearly 20 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. 217/HR. 448)—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.​

Case History

Following the lawsuit brought by the Center for Reproductive Rights on behalf of the Jackson Women’s Health Organization and Dr. Willie Parker, a federal district court partially blocked the law in July 2012 andlater fully blocked it in April 2013—barring the state from imposing criminal and civil penalties on the clinic doctors and on staff pending the outcome of the litigation.  A three-judge panel of the Fifth Circuit heardarguments on the district court’s preliminary injunction in April 2014 and upheld the injunction blocking the law in July 2014.  In November 2014 the Fifth Circuit refused to reconsider its decision to continue to block the law—allowing the clinic to stay open—while the case proceeds.