Mississippi’s Lone Abortion Clinic Fights to Stay Open

When he signed it into law in April this year, Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant lauded House Bill No. 1390 as the "first step" to making Mississippi the first "abortion-free" state in the country. If fully implemented, the law will surely have that effect. As the Center for Reproductive Rights has explained, and Bryant and his anti-choice allies have repeatedly said, the goal of the legislation is nothing less than to regulate Mississippi's last abortion clinic out of existence. Designed to ban abortion, and therefore, deny the women of Mississippi their constitutional and human right to safe reproductive health services, the law is patently unconstitutional.

The key provisions of the law are the medically unjustified requirements that any physician providing an abortion be a board-certified or eligible OB/GYN with "admitting privileges." Admitting privileges are not easily come by under any circumstances but more importantly, such a requirement gives hospitals the power to decide whether abortion is even available in the state. And there's no medical reason for this requirement: an abortion is among the safest medical procedures—less than half of one percent lead to major complications—and most of those few complications can be addressed in an outpatient setting.

Combined with the political pressure to enforce it immediately, the new law threatened to cause the closure of the Jackson Women's Health Organization, the state's last abortion clinic when it went into effect on July 1. The Center sued and won a partial injunction in July, giving the clinic more time to wait and see whether any hospitals would grant privileges to the clinic's doctors.

What more time has revealed is exactly what Mississippi's anti-choice lawmakers expected: securing admitting privileges from Jackson, Mississippi is proving to be a near insurmountable task.

To date, the clinic has applied for admitting privileges at all of the hospitals in the surrounding counties. The majority has rejected the requests citing administrative issues (never a doctor's qualifications) while the remaining three have not yet made a decision. The hospitals are openly refusing to grant privileges because they are concerned about their business relationships. Take this response from one hospital: "The nature of your proposed medical practice... would lead to both an internal and external disruption of the Hospital's function and business within this community."

In other words, H.B. 1390 is playing out just as the Center warned. If the law remains in effect and the clinic can't find a hospital to grant it admitting privileges, it could be forced to close. And the women of Mississippi and the surrounding region, particularly those who cannot afford expensive long distance travel, will be denied their constitutionally protected right to a safe, legal abortion.