July 12, 2012

Injunction Extended Against Law Targeting Abortion Clinic

Connie K. Ho for - Your Universe Online

Citing the need for more time to review a law, a federal judge recently continued a temporary restraining order that would further prohibit the state of Mississippi from enforcing a new state law that restricts abortion clinics.

The law concerns the last abortion clinic in Mississippi and, if allowed, would make Mississippi the only U.S. state that does not have facilities for those procedures. Those in support of abortion rights believe that the law was a disguised attempt to remove abortions, but supporters of the law believe that the measure was designed to protect women´s safety. The law was instated on July 1, but representatives of the Jackson Women´s Health Organization requested that U.S. District Judge Daniel P. Jordan III issue a preliminary injunction that would stop the state from enforcing the law while it was reviewed for its constitutionality. Jordan did not rule on the request, and instead continued the restraining order until he had sufficient time to review the state Board of Health´s new rules on the law. Until then, the clinic is able to continue offering abortions. Jordan has not indicated if he would grant the preliminary injunction nor has he motioned when his decision will be announced.

"The issue for today is whether or not there is irreparable harm to your clients right now, and that harm could change with the facts," Jordan explained at the hearing for the preliminary injunction. "Today it could be the chilling effect. Three months from now it could be, 'We didn't get admitted, therefore we have to close.'"

Last April, the law was signed by Republican Governor Phil Bryant and required that physicians who offer abortions to have board certification in obstetrics and gynecology. As well, those same physicians needed to have admitting privileges at a local hospital. Even though the physicians at the Jackson Women´s Health organization are certified OB-GYNs, they have yet to receive hospital privileges.

"The purpose and effect is to impede women's access to abortion," noted Michelle Movahed, a staff attorney with the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights who is representing the clinic in the case, in an article by Reuters Health.

Should Jordan decide to allow the law to be enforced by the state, the clinic will have some time to comply with the specifics of the law before having their license revoked. The judge stated that the timetable for the clinic to comply to state mandate is not clear. If the clinic had to appeal to the revocation, it would have 60 days to do so and could remain open during that time.

According to Reuters Health, in court documents, the Jackson Women´s Health Organization cited that the law "is motivated by a desire to close down the clinic and end abortion in the state, in defiance of the Constitution and with a disregard for the rights of individuals."

On the other hand, the state believes that the law is protecting women´s health by making sure that doctors have the correct credentials to perform procedures and have access to hospitals in emergency situations. They also noted “substantial reason for concern” on the health and safety record of the clinic. A few anti-abortion state congressional members hope that the measure will eventually end abortions in Mississippi. Jordan will have to decide if those statements should be considered in the case.

"Protecting maternal health is a legitimate state interest," explained Benjamin Bryant, special assistant to Mississippi's attorney general, in the Reuters Health article.

However, in response to the safety allegations posed by the state, the Jackson Women´s Health Organization stated that it was compliant with all Mississippi laws after a recent inspection in June. The clinic opened in Mississippi in 1996. Between July 1, 2010 and June 30, 2011, 2,000 women had abortion procedures done at the clinic.