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Full Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals Refuses to Rehear Mississippi Law Designed to Close Last Abortion Clinic

Last abortion clinic in the state to remain open while legal challenge continues

(PRESS RELEASE) The full U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit has refused to reconsider the constitutionality of Mississippi’s arbitrary and medically unwarranted law forcing a physician performing abortions to have admitting privileges at a local hospital.

In refusing to reconsider the case, the Fifth Circuit also continued to block the law from taking effect, allowing the last clinic in the state to remain open as the legal challenge continues.  The case now heads back to the federal district court.

Following the 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 on staff pending the outcome of the litigation.  A three-judge panel of the Fifth Circuit heard arguments in the preliminary injunction in April 2014 and upheld the injunction blocking the law in July 2014.

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

“For now, the sole clinic providing safe, legal abortion care can keep its doors open for the women of Mississippi.

“Earlier decisions in this case have rightly recognized the very real and severe harm that would befall countless women in Mississippi if the state’s only abortion clinic were shuttered.

“We are confident the federal district court will once again see through the sham justifications for this underhanded clinic shutdown law and ultimately strike it down permanently as a gross violation of women’s constitutional rights.”

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 in Texas, and abortion providers in Louisiana and Alabama are hanging on by the thread of a court order.

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.

Requiring abortion providers to obtain admitting privileges provides no increased benefits for the one in three women who will need an abortion at some point in their life—as less than 1 percent of abortion patients experience complications requiring hospitalization. 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. 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.