(REVISED 02.01.2019) This lawsuit challenged Mississippi’s attempt to end legal abortion in the state by attempting to shut down its one remaining abortion clinic. Mississippi passed a law in 2012 explicitly intended to shut down its last abortion clinic by requiring that all physicians associated with an abortion facility have admitting privileges at a local hospital and limiting the provision of abortion care to board certified or board eligible OB-GYNs.
Admitting privileges requirements like these are contrary to modern medical standards, and the American Medical Association and
the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists oppose them. These requirements have no medical justification and simply deprive women of abortion care. The complication rates for abortion are extremely low, hospital admission is almost never required, and the clinic already has procedures in place to ensure patient safety in the rare event of an emergency. Because hospitals can deny admitting privileges to doctors for a variety of reasons that have nothing to do with competence, ranging from ideological opposition to abortion to the fact that too few of their patients will ever need hospital care, such laws have the effect of shutting down clinics.
The law also limits the provision of abortion to board certified or board eligible obstetricians and gynecologists (OB-GYNs). This requirement, not in place in any other state, provides no medical benefit, abortions are safely provided throughout the country by other types of medical practitioners, such as family practice doctors and, in some states, physician assistants and advanced practice registered nurses. Meanwhile, the restriction makes it harder for the last remaining clinic in the state to hire new abortion providers and prevents qualified candidates from providing abortion care in the state.
Plaintiff(s): Jackson Women’s Health Organization, Willie Parker, M.D., MPH, MSc
Co-Counsel/Cooperating Attorneys: Aaron Delaney at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton &, Garrison, LLP, Robert McDuff at McDuff &, Byrd (Jackson)
Summary: On June 27, 2012, the Center for Reproductive Rights filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of the last clinic in Mississippi (Jackson Women’s Health Organization), one of its physicians (obstetrician-gynecologist Dr. Willie Parker) and their patients, seeking injunctive relief that would allow the clinic to stay open. The lawsuit claims that the admitting privileges requirement will harm the health of women seeking abortions and deprive them of their constitutionally-protected right to decide when and whether to have children. The Plaintiffs sought immediate relief from this unconstitutional law. After the case was filed, Dr. Parker and another physician at the clinic were unable to obtain admitting privileges at any local hospital in the Jackson area, in fact, no local hospital would even consider the physicians’ applications, with many hospitals referring to their opposition to abortion. The State argued that even if the admitting privileges requirement forced the clinic to close and eliminated all access to legal abortion in Mississippi, forcing a woman to travel out of state to exercise her rights to seek an abortion is not an undue burden. The federal district court disagreed and granted the Center’s request for a preliminary injunction, preventing the state from closing the clinic.
The State appealed, at the State’s request, the federal district court suspended discovery and other proceedings while the appeal continues. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit upheld the preliminary injunction (modified to apply only to the
plaintiffs in this case) on July 29, 2014, keeping the clinic open. On February 18, 2015, the State petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case. On June 28, 2016, the Supreme Court denied the State’s petition, sending the case back down to the trial court for a decision on the merits of the law.On March 17, 2017, the district court permanently enjoined the admitting privileges law as applied to our clients, striking down the requirement for imposing an unconstitutional undue burden on a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy. On April 26, 2017, we filed a motion with the district court requesting the ob-gyn requirement also be permanently struck down and requesting the judge clarify that the injunction blocking the admitting privileges law would also apply to any future clinics that may open in the state. On March 15, 2018, the court issued a ruling clarifying that the block of the admitting privileges law does apply statewide but upholding the ob-gyn requirement. On February 1, 2019, the State was ordered to pay over $750,000 in attorneys fees and costs.