JACKSON, Mississippi (Reuters) - Mississippi’s sole abortion clinic will have to close unless a federal judge halts a new state law requiring its physicians to obtain admitting privileges to local hospitals, according to a court motion filed on Wednesday.
The Jackson Women’s Health Organization renewed its request for a federal judge to prevent state officials from enforcing the law, which the clinic said was an unconstitutional attempt to ban abortion in Mississippi.
Mississippi, which had as many as 14 abortion providers in the early 1980s, has some of the country’s strictest abortion laws and one of the lowest abortion rates. It also has the highest teen pregnancy rate in the United States - more than 60 percent above the national average in 2010.
The law, which took effect on July 1, requires all abortion providers to be board certified in obstetrics and gynecology and have admitting privileges at a local hospital.
Advocates of the new law, including numerous state lawmakers, said it was designed to protect women’s health. But some also have expressed hope it will shutter the Mississippi clinic.
The clinic’s providers already are board-certified OB-GYNs, but the only one who had admitting privileges at the time of the law’s passage provides limited service at the clinic.
The two doctors who provide the majority of procedures were denied privileges after a months-long effort by the clinic to obtain them.
Clinic owner Diane Derzis told Reuters she sent applications on behalf of all the physicians to every hospital within a 30-mile (48-km) radius. All of the hospitals ultimately rejected the requests or refused to even consider them, she said.
“It is now clear that plaintiffs have no hope of being able to comply with the Admitting Privileges Requirement,” said the filing by the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights, which represents the clinic in court.
U.S. District Judge Daniel P. Jordan III in July allowed the law to take effect despite objections by the clinic and the Center for Reproductive Rights. The judge blocked the state from imposing any criminal or civil penalties on the clinic, its staff or its physicians during the application process.
The state Department of Health, tasked with enforcing the law, gave the clinic until January to comply.
“They’ve had ample time to become compliant,” said Republican state Representative Sam Mims, who sponsored the measure.
But he added: “The legislature doesn’t control what hospitals in the Jackson metro area do. They have their own committees and bylaws set up, and they have to make the best decisions.”
It was unclear when the judge might rule on the motion and when the clinic would have to close if it loses; the state Health Department also has an appeals process.
Jackson Women’s Health Organization, based in the city of Jackson, has operated in the state for 17 years and has been Mississippi’s only clinic since 2002. Its closure would mean an end to elective abortion in the state and would force women to travel elsewhere for the procedure.
“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.
“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,” she said.
Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Cynthia Osterman