Update: The Guardian is now reporting that the last-minute reprieve has been granted, with a federal judge issuing a preliminary injunction blocking the law, at least until a hearing scheduled for July 11.
Barring a last minute legal reprieve, Mississippi’s only abortion clinic will be forced to turn away patients starting Monday, a move it says will push some vulnerable women into the hands of backstreet operators.
Owners of the Jackson Women’s Health Organization say they intend to open up like any other day. But under new rules seemingly designed to make Mississippi an abortion-free state, physicians will not be able to carry out terminations without first being registered as a practitioner with privileges to admit patients to a local hospital.
None of the doctors at the clinic currently meet that requirement, which has been described by pro-choice campaigners as “medically unjustified”.
As a result, the centre – which has been running for 17 years in the face of threats, protest and opposition from religious conservatives in the state – will be forced to cancel all procedures.
“We have made the application for the privileges but it is a lengthy process and we are yet to hear if we have been successful,” Diane Derzis, owner of Jackson Women’s Health Organization, told the Guardian. A federal lawsuit has also been filed in a bid to buy the clinic more time.
Derzis claims that the new requirement – which was scheduled to go into effect on July 1 – was designed explicitly with the intention of forcing her clinic out of business and had little to do with the safety of patients.
Doctors at the centre note that the number of women who experience a complication during an abortion that requires treatment at a hospital is extremely low – fewer than 0.3% according to the sexual health thinktank the Guttmacher Institute.
In any case, the clinic has an agreement with a local physician who will admit one of their clients should the need arise.
“There has been no subtlety here, they are proud of the fact that the law would make Mississippi abortion-free,” Derzis said.
Certainly, top officials in the state have made no secret about wanting to shutter the centre .
Republican governor Phil Bryant has said on a number of occasions that he doesn’t want abortions carried out in the state.
“If it closes that clinic, then so be it,” Bryant said in April as he signed the new requirements into law.
The move will force those seeking terminations to travel hundreds of miles and cross state lines to have the procedure performed legally.
The next nearest clinics to Jackson are approximately three hours drive away, with most neighbouring states requiring a mandatory waiting period and some, such as Louisiana, requiring two trips.
Derzis believes that if her clinic is to close it would lead to a rise of vulnerable women going to non-registered abortionists.
“There is no question about it, some women are going to do whatever it takes,” she said, adding: “This doesn’t affect women with money so much, it is the women who are poor, with no resources that will suffer.”
Mississippi, one of the poorest states in America, also has one of the highest rates of teen pregnancy – more than 60% above the national average.
Figures from the state’s health department reveal that 2,297 abortions were performed in the state in 2010.
The vast majority of these terminations were carried out by doctors at the Jackson clinic. The centre, opened in 2002, also offers state-mandated counselling services for clients, some of whom decide to continue with their pregnancies.
Last week, in a last ditch effort to save the clinic, the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights filed a legal challenge to the new rules at a federal level.
But as of Sunday evening, neither the centre nor Jackson clinic itself had been informed of any reprieve.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2012
Photo by Christopher J. Clayton (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons