Judge continues to block Mississippi law

Would shut down only clinic in state

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JACKSON, Miss. — A federal judge decided Wednesday to continue to block a state law that threatens to shut down Mississippi’s only abortion clinic.

U.S. District Judge Daniel P. Jordan III temporarily blocked the law July 1 and extended that order Wednesday, though he did not immediately say how long it would last.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that states can’t place undue burdens or substantial obstacles to women seeking abortion. The state law would require anyone performing clinic abortions to be an OB-GYN with privileges to admit patients to a local hospital. The doctors at the clinic in Jackson do not have those privileges, which the clinic says aren’t medically necessary.

Supporters of the law say it’s designed to protect patients. Gov. Phil Bryant, a Republican, has said he hopes it will help make Mississippi “abortion-free.”

The clinic, Jackson Women’s Health Organization, says it has been unable to obtain admitting privileges for its two out-of-state OB-GYNs because local hospitals have not responded to their requests.

Admitting privileges can be difficult to get because hospitals might not grant them to out-of-state physicians, or hospitals with religious affiliations might not give them to doctors who perform abortions.

The clinic said it would face “irreparable harm” if the law were to be enforced because hospitals haven’t said when - or if - they will consider the admitting privileges. The clinic wanted the judge to keep the law on hold to see whether its doctors can get the privileges.

“If they’re denied or if the hospitals are dragging their feet, that’s going to be more clear evidence that there’s a substantial obstacle” to an abortion, clinic attorney Robert McDuff said.

The government said the privileges help protect patients by ensuring they have continuity of care if a woman needs to go to the hospital. They also note that while the clinic might have to wait to get hospital privileges, “inconvenience is not ‘irreparable harm.’ “

The state attorney general’s office declined to comment after the hearing.

The law was passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature. When the governor signed it, he said: “If it closes that clinic, then so be it.”

The state’s attorney had argued that any anti-abortion statements by elected officials were “weak evidence” that the purpose of the law was to prevent abortions.

Terri Herring of the Pro Life America Network lobbied for the law and attended the court hearing. After the judge’s decision, Ms. Herring said the hospitals should deny admitting privileges for the abortion clinic’s doctors.

“There’s no vetting process for fly-by-night physicians who come in and perform abortions at the clinic,” Ms. Herring said.

The clinic uses out-of-state physicians because in-state physicians generally don’t want to face the social pressure of having protesters at their offices, homes or churches, clinic employees say.

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