Mississippi's Last Abortion Clinic Back in Court

Center for Reproductive Rights takes new court action after local hospitals refuse to grant admitting privileges to doctors at the state’s only abortion facility

(PRESS RELEASE) The Center for Reproductive Rights today is asking a federal court to prevent state officials from enforcing Mississippi’s unconstitutional new law aimed at regulating the state’s last remaining abortion clinic out of existence, now that the Jackson Women’s Health Organization (JWHO) has demonstrated it is impossible to comply with the arbitrary and medically unnecessary requirements.  

House Bill 1390, which was signed into law on April 16 and partially blocked by a federal judge in July 2012, imposes medically unwarranted requirements that any physician performing abortions in the state be a board certified or eligible obstetrician-gynecologist with admitting privileges at an area hospital. 

Although all the doctors currently providing abortions to women at the Mississippi clinic are board-certified ob-gyns, the physicians responsible for the lion’s share of the clinic’s patients have not been granted privileges by any of the hospitals in the area. In fact, several of the hospitals refused to even process the physicians’ applications, citing their biased policies and practices towards abortion care. 

To quote several hospitals’ letters refusing to process applications submitted by the physicians at JWHO: “The nature of your proposed medical practice is inconsistent with this Hospital’s policies and practices as concerns abortion and, in particular, elective abortions; ... [and] 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 his July 2012 order, U.S. District Judge Daniel P. Jordan III allowed the law to take effect, but blocked the state from imposing any criminal or civil penalties on the clinic, its staff, or its physicians for providing services to women while the application process was ongoing. The state Department of Health gave JWHO until January to show that all physicians “associated with” the clinic have admitting privileges at a local hospital. “

Anti-choice politicians were very clear that they had one in thing in mind when they passed this law: to shut down Mississippi’s only abortion clinic,” said Nancy Northup, president and CEO at the Center for Reproductive Rights. “It isn’t a surprise to anyone that the physicians at the Jackson Women’s Health Organization haven’t been able to obtain admitting privileges at any local hospital. 

“Mississippi women have the same constitutional rights as any other women in the United States—they deserve far better than to be forced to travel hundreds of miles to another state to get a safe, legal medical procedure.” 

The Center for Reproductive Rights, representing JWHO and Dr. Willie Parker, filed for immediate court action on June 27 claiming the new law’s intended consequence of closing down the state’s only abortion clinic clearly threatens the health of women and deprives them of their constitutionally-protected right to decide when and whether to have children. “

This unconstitutional law has essentially handed over the fate of Mississippi women’s reproductive health care to hospital administrators,” said Michelle Movahed, staff attorney at the Center. “Dr. Parker and the dedicated staff and physicians at the Jackson Women’s Health Organization must be allowed to continue providing safe and legal abortion care without threat of closure.” 

“I have dedicated half of my 20-year career to ensuring women have access to the full range of reproductive health care services—because when women get the medical care they need, they thrive,” said Dr. Willie Parker, a board-certified ob-gyn with admitting privileges at local hospitals in both Maryland and Virginia. Dr. Parker currently provides reproductive health care services to women in Maryland, Virginia, Washington, DC, Philadelphia, Alabama, and Mississippi. 

The Jackson Women’s Health Organization has served women and families in Mississippi for 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 is approximately three hours away, with most neighboring states requiring a mandatory 24-hour waiting period. 

Representing the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, 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, are Michelle Movahed as lead counsel and Robert B. McDuff as local counsel in Jackson, Mississippi. 

The Center for Reproductive Rights, the only global legal advocacy organization dedicated exclusively to advancing and defending reproductive rights, recently launched the national Draw the Line campaign, which calls on all Americans to sign a Bill of Reproductive Rights and tell lawmakers that they stand strongly behind a woman’s fundamental right to safe reproductive health care. To date, nearly 200,000 people from every state in the United States, including Mississippi, have signed the bill at drawtheline.org