* Some lawmakers say hope law will end abortions in state
* State has low abortion rate, high teen pregnancy rate
By Emily Le Coz
TUPELO, Miss., June 27 Mississippi could become
the only U.S. state without an abortion clinic if its lone
facility is unable to comply with a law taking effect on Sunday
that requires doctors who perform the procedure to have
admitting privileges at a local hospital.
Some anti-abortion lawmakers are openly saying they hope
the new measure will end abortions in Mississippi. The state's
sole clinic has struggled to obtain the necessary privileges for
its physicians at any of the half dozen hospitals within a
30-minute drive, the clinic's spokeswoman said.
"The political climate is very hostile, particularly for the
hospitals," said Betty Thompson, spokeswoman for Jackson Women's
Health Organization, the clinic located in the state capital.
"I understand the position they're in as well, however,
there is no legal or reasonable reason for us not to be
available to take care of our own patients if we have problems."
Mississippi already 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 state became a battleground for reproductive rights last
fall when voters weighed in on a constitutional "personhood"
amendment that defined life at the moment eggs are fertilized.
Voters handed abortion opponents a setback by rejecting the
Undeterred, state lawmakers this spring passed legislation
requiring abortion providers to be board certified in obstetrics
and gynecology and to have staff with admitting privileges at a
Thirty-nine other states also require that OB-GYNs perform
abortions, and nine others mandate hospital privileges,
according to the Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit organization
dedicated to sexual and reproductive rights.
But Mississippi, which had as many as 14 abortion providers
in the early 1980s, would be the first state without a single
abortion clinic should the Jackson Women's Health Organization
close, said Guttmacher spokeswoman Rebecca Wind.
The clinic began applying for admitting privileges in May
after Mississippi's Republican Governor Phil Bryant signed the
measure into law.
Representatives of the clinic said its main three doctors,
who all travel from outside of Mississippi to see patients,
already are board-certified OB-GYNs.
Inspectors from the Mississippi Department of Health, which
is the state's licensing agency for abortion clinics, will check
on the clinic's compliance with the new law on Monday, said
agency spokeswoman Liz Sharlot.
If the facility has not complied by then, it will get 10
working days to submit a plan outlining how it will remedy the
situation within a reasonable time frame, she said.
Sharlot said the definition of "reasonable" varies from case
to case, leaving some uncertainty about how soon the clinic
might be forced to close if it cannot comply. Sharlot noted that
the abortion clinic has been aware of the law for months.
NO GRACE PERIOD
The state legislator who sponsored the law has asked the
department to deny Jackson Women's Health Organization a grace
Republican Representative Sam Mims said he does not "want to
give the facility 10 extra days to perform abortions" and is
consulting attorneys on the legality of such a move.
Mims said the law is intended to protect patients by
ensuring that physicians are certified and able to follow them
into a local hospital in emergency cases, but added if it also
"causes Mississippi to have fewer abortions, then that is a
The clinic and its supporters say they are doing everything
they can to stay open. No option is off the table, including
pursuing legal action to halt the "medically unnecessary
regulations," said Julie Rikelman, litigation director for the
Center for Reproductive Rights, which provides legal services
for the Mississippi clinic.
"We are looking closely at every possible option to ensure
the clinic continues to provide safe reproductive health care to
the women of Mississippi without disruption," Rikelman said.
The Jackson Women's Health Organization has been providing
services in Mississippi since 1996. Thompson said about 2,000
women received abortions at the clinic between July 1, 2010 and
June 30, 2011. The staff also provides state-mandated counseling
services to clients, some of whom ultimately chose to keep their
babies, she said.
The nearest clinics outside the state are located in
Alabama, Tennessee, Arkansas and Louisiana. But Thompson said
not all women will be able to access those facilities.
"It puts an undue burden on women of all classes and colors,
Thompson said. "I see us going back to the early '70s and what
happened to women who did not have access. They tried to induce
it for themselves or they went to people who were not qualified
to do the procedures, and they sometimes died."
During a speech in May to a local Republican Party group,
state Representative Bubba Carpenter acknowledged women could
return to "coat hanger" abortions but said Mississippi had to
Mims, the law's sponsor, disputed that the measure could
lead to such a scenario.
"I'm not at all worried," he said. "My hope is that the
women that are making these choices will now choose life, that
they will realize that life begins at conception."
(Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Vicki Allen)