Center for Reproductive Rights Announces Challenge to Dozens of Abortion Restrictions in Mississippi

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Challenge builds on and expands Center for Reproductive Rights’ recent lawsuit against state’s unconstitutional 15-week abortion ban
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(PRESS RELEASE)  The Center for Reproductive Rights, the law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton &, Garrison LLP, Mississippi civil rights attorney Robert B. McDuff, and the Mississippi Center for Justice today brought a challenge in Jackson, Mississippi against a regime of Mississippi laws and regulations that have created unconstitutional barriers to the right to access safe, legal abortion and that violate the Supreme Court’s standard in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt.

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

“The precipitous drop in access to abortion in Mississippi over the past 25 years is the result of a coordinated strategy to undermine or eliminate women’s constitutional rights to legal abortion with deceptive laws and unnecessary regulations.

“Mississippi’s regulations have nothing to do with women’s health, and everything to do with shaming women and blocking access to abortion care.

“We’re taking Mississippi and other states to court to protect abortion access and make it clear to anti-choice politicians across the U.S. that they are not above the law – and that in a court of law, facts, evidence and the Constitution still matter.”  

The lawsuit challenges legal restrictions in Mississippi that place burdens on women seeking abortion services, including laws that demean, delay and misinform women, as well as a series of Targeted Regulations of Abortion Providers (TRAP) laws and regulations. As Mississippi has enacted this legal regime over the last two-and-a-half decades, all but one of the state’s abortion clinics have closed. Today’s challenge comes three weeks after the Center for Reproductive Rights and Mr. McDuff filed a successful emergency lawsuit to temporarily block the latest of these laws: the state’s unconstitutional ban on abortion after 15 weeks.

The restrictions challenged in the lawsuit include:

  • TRAP Licensing Scheme: a restrictive clinic licensing system that singles out abortion clinics for a series of unnecessary and unwarranted regulations that far exceed regulations applied to other clinics providing similar and even higher-risk medical care.
  • 24-hour mandatory delay: a requirement that women delay their abortion 24 hours after receiving state-mandated information, Mississippi does not subject any other medical care to this requirement.
  • Two-trip requirement : a requirement that a woman make two separate trips to and from the clinic before she can obtain an abortion, no other medical care is subject to this requirement in Mississippi.
  • Physician only law: a requirement that only physicians provide abortion care, when evidence and experience demonstrate that other medical practitioners can safely provide this care, as they do in several other states.
  • Telemedicine ban: a ban that applies only to physicians providing abortions that prohibits physicians from the use of telemedicine to provide consultations and treatment recommendations, including dispensing prescription medications, to patients, no other type of telemedicine consultations or treatments are subject to this prohibition in Mississippi.
  • 15 Week Ban: a prohibition on abortions after 15 weeks that threatens physicians with civil penalties for providing that care.   

These requirements and restrictions do not make abortion care safer or improve women’s health, instead, they are part of a “step-by-step” legislative strategy by anti-abortion groups and politicians in state legislatures to eliminate access to legal abortion. Anti-abortion legislators have implemented this strategy across the country, and these laws and regulations have hit low-income women, rural communities, and communities of color the hardest. 

The Center for Reproductive Rights is using the power of the law and the Supreme Court decision in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt to challenge these unconstitutional laws in Mississippi. The landmark ruling reaffirmed a woman’s fundamental right to access abortion, and declared that laws whose benefits do not outweigh the burdens they impose on women’s access to abortion are unconstitutional.

About Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt

The U.S. Supreme Court’s June 27, 2016 decision in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt was the most important decision on reproductive rights in a generation. The ruling reaffirmed a woman’s fundamental right to access abortion and declared that laws that impose burdens on the right without a countervailing benefit are simply unconstitutional.

In Whole Woman’s Health, the Center for Reproductive Rights challenged two provisions of the 2013 Texas law House Bill 2 (HB 2). The first provision required that all abortion providers obtain local hospital admitting privileges, a medically unnecessary mandate that forced the closure of more than half the clinics in the state. The second provision required every licensed abortion facility to meet the same hospital-like building standards as an ambulatory surgical center (ASC), which amounts to millions of dollars in medically unnecessary facility renovations.

The landmark victory in Whole Woman’s Health upheld decades of precedent affirming a woman’s constitutional right to a safe and legal abortion, and declared that politicians cannot pass restrictions to abortion without a basis in fact and scientific evidence.

About the Center for Reproductive Rights in Mississippi

Today’s amended complaint comes three weeks after Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant signed into law an unconstitutional ban on abortion after 15 weeks, which the Center followed immediately with a court challenge and won a temporary restraining order. The law is currently blocked while the litigation proceeds.

In 2012, the Center for Reproductive Rights, together with Paul, Weiss and Robert B. McDuff,

filed a legal challenge to the state’s admitting privileges requirement on behalf of Jackson Women’s Health Organization—the last remaining abortion clinic in Mississippi—and Dr. Willie Parker.  A federal district court partially blocked the admitting privileges requirement in July 2012 and later fully blocked the measure in April 2013—barring the state from enforcing it pending the outcome of the litigation.  A three-judge panel of the Fifth Circuit heard arguments on the district court’s preliminary injunction of the admitting privileges requirement in April 2014 and upheld the injunction blocking the law in July 2014.  In November 2014 the Fifth Circuit refused to reconsider its decision to continue to block the law, in February 2015, the state of Mississippi requested that the U.S. Supreme Court review the Fifth Circuit’s ruling.  Over a year and a half later—and one day after ruling that Texas’ clinic shutdown law was unconstitutional—the Supreme Court refused to review the measure, ensuring the last clinic in the state could remain open while the legal challenge continued.  Despite the ruling in Whole Woman’s Health, Mississippi continued to defend its admitting privileges requirement until March 2017 when the Center won a permanent injunction against the law.

Today’s challenge was filed by Julie Rikelman, Hillary Schneller, Leah Wiederhorn, and Christine Parker from the Center for Reproductive Rights, Aaron Delaney, Alexia Korberg, Crystal Johnson, Roberto Gonzalez, and Claudia Hammerman of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton &, Garrison LLP, civil rights attorney Robert B. McDuff in Jackson, Mississippi, and the Mississippi Center for Justice. The challenge builds on and expands the suit challenging Mississippi’s ban on abortion after 15 weeks, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi on behalf of Jackson Women’s Health Organization—the last remaining abortion clinic in the state—and Sacheen Carr-Ellis, M.D., M.P.H., the clinic’s medical director.