Court Enjoins New Abortion Law, Protecting Rights of Nearly 400 Mississippi Women

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Today, Judge Tom S. Lee of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi granted a preliminary injunction against a new abortion law. Now, the nearly 400 women who seek second-trimester abortions a year in Mississippi will not be forced to travel outside the state or to carry their pregnancies to term. The injunction will remain in effect until the trial court makes its final decision.

The new law would have banned abortions after the first trimester from being performed in any facility other than licensed hospitals or ambulatory surgical facilities. Earlier this month, the Center for Reproductive Rights filed a lawsuit on behalf of the Jackson Women's Health Organization.

The legislation was signed by the Governor of Mississippi, Haley Barbour, on May 27 and was scheduled to go into effect on July 1. The Jackson Women's Health Organization applied for an ambulatory surgical facility license after the law was signed, but the process actually takes at least several months and the clinic would not receive a license at least until November.

The Jackson Women's Health Organization is one of only two clinics in Mississippi that provide second-trimester abortions. And both only do so early in the second trimester. The other clinic is not applying for an ambulatory surgical facility license, but would face the same obstacles in doing so. Only one licensed hospital in Mississippi is known to perform abortions and then only under extremely limited circumstances.

Judge Lee ruled that the state "knew that the effect (if not the intent) of the amendment would be to make second-trimester abortions unavailable in Mississippi... a regulation that has the effect of unduly burdening a woman's right to choose an abortion" and that it would "hardly be reasonable" to conclude that the law furthers the state's professed desire to protect the health and safety of women.

"Today's decision is extremely important for our patients. Many of them have second-trimester abortions because they don't have the money to have the procedure earlier. So there's no way they can afford to take the additional time to travel out of state. It would mean taking time away from work or scraping together more money for transportation and some place to stay," said Betty Thompson, an administrator and counselor at the Jackson Women's Health Organization.

"Meanwhile, our client is perfectly qualified to perform these early second-trimester abortions," Simon Heller, attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights added. "Still the state refused to give them the necessary time to go through the application process, and for no sensible reason."

The plaintiff in this case is the Jackson Women's Health Organization. The clinic is represented by the Center for Reproductive Rights and S. Mark Wann of the Jackson firm Maxey Wann PPLC. The defendants are Brian Amy, State Health Officer for the Mississippi State Department of Health, S. Malcolm O. Harrison, Hinds County Attorney, and Haley Barbour, Governor of Mississippi.

For more information on regulation of abortion providers, see our factsheet Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers (TRAP): Avoiding the TRAP.