The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi temporarily blocked a state law on Sunday that would have required Mississippi's only abortion clinic to close its doors.
District Judge Daniel P. Jordan III, in Jackson, posted a restraining order shortly after the law went into effect on July 1, effectively saving the Jackson Women's Health Organization from being shut down. A hearing on a lawsuit filed by the clinic is now set for July 11.
"The opponents of reproductive rights in the Mississippi legislature have made no secret of their intent to make legal abortion virtually disappear in the state of Mississippi," Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, which helped file the clinic's lawsuit, said in an advisory. "Their hostility toward women, reproductive health care providers, and the rights of both would unquestionably put the lives and health of countless women at risk of grave harm."
The new law, passed by the state's Republicans with the support of Gov. Phil Bryant (R), requires doctors who perform abortions to become registered in obstetrics and gynecology and secure permission to admit patients to a local hospital. However, it is extremely rare for women to experience severe medical complications during abortions.
Even so, not a single one of the physicians at the Jackson Women's Health Organization have been granted permission to hospitalize patients. Critics say it was specifically tailored to force the women's health clinic in Jackson, which has faced numerous threats and protests in its 17 years of operation, to shut down. Gov. Bryant confirmed those critics' suspicions when he declared, "If [this law] closes that clinic, then so be it," during a signing ceremony in April.
"The federal judge’s decision is disappointing, and Gov. Bryant plans to work with state leaders to ensure this legislation properly takes effect as soon as possible," an aide to Bryant told The Associated Press.
"While we are pleased the court has decided to temporarily block enforcement of this medically unwarranted restriction, this battle is far from over," Northup added. "We will continue to fight alongside the Jackson Women's Health Organization to ensure that the women of Mississippi are not relegated to a second class of U.S. citizens, denied the constitutionally-protected rights that other women nationwide are guaranteed."
Women in Mississippi have for years consistently sought fewer abortions than women elsewhere, coming in at just 4.9 abortions per 1,000 women in 2008 versus the national average of 19.6 abortions per 1,000 women, according to The Guttmacher Institute. State law requires women seeking to terminate a pregnancy undergo mandatory anti-abortion counseling, then return home and wait 24 hours before the procedure.
Should the clinic in Jackson be shut down, Mississippi would become the first U.S. state with no abortion clinics.
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