Ruling Leaves Door Open to Closing Last Mississippi Abortion Biz

State   Steven Ertelt   Jul 16, 2012   |   12:05PM    Jackson, MS

A judge issued a ruling on Friday that leaves the door open to closing the last abortion business in the state of Mississippi.

U.S. District Judge Daniel P. Jordan III ruled that abortion practitioners at Mississippi’s sole abortion clinic are allowed to continue doing them , even if they do not have admitting and staff privileges at an area hospital, as required by a new state law. However, the judge said state officials can begin an administrative process that could ultimately lead to the closing of the abortion facility.

“We do not yet know whether the clinic will obtain admitting and staff privileges,” the judge wrote. “As both parties stated during the hearing, the resolution of that issue will impact the ultimate issues in this case.”

In April, Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant signed a bill putting new requirements on the books for abortion practitioners who operate in the state. They would have to be certified in the state as an obstetrician-gynecologist with admitting privileges at a local hospital in case a botched abortion requires a woman to be immediately hospitalized.

Michael New, a professor who frequently analyzes the effect of pro-life laws on abortion, says the news is still, on the whole, good for pro-lifers.

“The good news is that Judge Jordan has decided to allow Mississippi House Bill 1390 to go into effect,” he said. “This is the law that would require that abortion providers be licensed OB/GYNs with admitting privileges at a local hospital. None of the abortion providers who work at Mississippi’s sole abortion clinic, the Jackson Women’s Health Organization, currently has admitting privileges at local hospitals. Under this ruling, state officials can now begin an administrative process that could possibly lead to the closing of the clinic.”

“However, Judge Jordan also ruled that the clinic can remain open and will not face criminal or civil penalties as it tries to comply with the law,” he added. “Somewhat ominously for pro-lifers, Judge Jordan also wrote that the closure of the clinic would pose an “undue burden” on women seeking abortions. This may mean that if the law would result in the closure of the clinic, he may consider this legislation unconstitutional under the Supreme Court’s Casey decision.”

New continued:  “This ruling raises some interesting questions. The owner of the Jackson Women’s Health Organization, Diane Derzis, was also the owner of the All Woman New Woman abortion clinic in Birmingham, Ala. Earlier this year, the Alabama Department of Public Health forced All Woman New Woman to close due to repeated health and safety violations.”

“It would be unfortunate if the Mississippi State Department of Health would be unable to completely enforce various health and safety rules because the closure of the Jackson Women’s Health Organization would pose an “undue burden” on women seeking abortions. Mississippi State Department of Health officials are reviewing Judge Jordan’s decision to see what the next steps may be. However, it seems likely that further litigation will be necessary before this law is completely enforced,” he concluded.

Operation Rescue spokesman Troy Newman also talked about the effect of the ruling.

“We are happy that Judge Daniel P. Jordan III has allowed Mississippi House Bill 1390 to go into effect for now, but are deeply distressed at his assessment that if the two abortionists in Mississippi were to stop doing abortions there, it would create an ‘undue burden,'” he said.

Newman is most concerned about women being injured by botched abortions done by abortion practitioners with no admitting privileges.

“This law is meant to protect women by ensuring that they have continuity of care in the event of life-threatening abortion complications, where delays can be fatal. The primary abortion provider in Mississippi, Bruce Elliot Norman, has a history of such abortion complications,” he said. “His shoddy medical practices were responsible for another abortion clinic in Alabama to be forced to close in May. That clinic’s owner, Diane Derzis, who also owns the Jackson Women Health Organization, was banned from any association with any future abortion business there because of her unsafe administration of that abortion business.”

“It is reprehensible that the JWHO should it be allowed to continue to endanger the lives and health of women simply because it is the last abortion clinic in Mississippi,” Newman continued. “Women deserve better than to have the Court ignore serious health risks inflicted upon them by fly-by-night abortionists who swoop into Mississippi from out-of-state, only to leave the matter of complications to emergency room staff that have to figure out on their own what happened.”

“The judge has proposed a new legal doctrine: A dangerous abortion clinic is better than no abortion clinic. We beg to differ,” Newman concluded. “Abortion clinics already have lower standards than other medical facilities. How low can abortion clinic standards be allowed to go and when does patient safety start to matter? If a clinic has unsafe operations that endanger patients and violate the law, then it makes no good sense to keep it open. In fact, it would violate the state’s right to protect the public safety.”

Diane Derzis, owner of the Jackson Women’s Health Organization abortion facility, challenged the law in court when she determined that two of the three abortion practitioners she employs at the state’s lone abortion facility could not find hospitals willing to bestow admitting privileges.

The Center for Reproductive Rights, representing the Jackson Women’s Health Organization and Dr. Willie Parker, filed for immediate court action on June 27.

House Bill 1390 was signed into law on April 16 and was scheduled to go into effect on July 1. Supporters of the measure—including Governor Phil Bryant, Lt. Governor Tate Reeves, and a number of state legislators— indicated they hoped the bill would protect women and unborn children.

In 2004, the Center for Reproductive Rights successfully challenged a Mississippi law that would have virtually banned abortions after the first trimester, requiring second trimester procedures to be performed in hospitals or ambulatory surgical facilities. A U.S. district judge declared the law unconstitutional, recognizing that it did nothing to protect the health and safety of women who choose abortion despite the state legislature’s claims.

In 1996, a federal district court struck down Mississippi regulations requiring physicians performing abortions to have completed a residency in ob-gyn in Pro-Choice Mississippi v. Thompson, stating that the state could not show “there is a reasonable medical necessity directed to preserve the woman’s health in requiring ob-gyn residency training for all physicians performing abortions.”

There were 2,297 abortions performed in Mississippi in 2010, according to the Mississippi State Health Department. Nearly all of those were performed on state residents.

Requiring abortion practitioners to have such admitting privileges is not new and the state of Indiana has pursued them because of problems with botched abortions.

Because so many women suffer from botched abortions that require immediate follow-up medical care, local officials approved what they said is a needed ordinance. It requires any abortion practitioners coming to Fort Wayne from out of town to inform a local hospital because they would not have proper admitting privileges to admit women who are victimized by failed abortions and need immediate medical care.

A judge issued a ruling that pro-life groups said was favorable for the much-needed law. Alliance Defense Fund attorneys representing Allen County say the court order the judge issued denies most of abortion practitioner George Klopfer’s motion to stop critical aspects of the new Patient Safety Ordinance.

ADF told LifeNews.com that means those provisions can go into effect and that the door is open for other Indiana counties to enact similar legislation.

“A patient’s health is more important than an abortionist’s bottom line,” said ADF Senior Legal Counsel Steven H. Aden.

“The county simply can’t put the health and safety of patients at risk because one man wants to perform abortions without a sensible safety precaution that applies to all out-of-town physicians, not just abortionists,” he said. “The ordinance is very clearly designed to make sure that patients receive appropriate treatment in a medical emergency that can arise after an itinerant physician has gone back home and is no longer available to care for the patient.”

Dr. Geoff Cly, a Fort Wayne gynecologist who has treated several of a local abortion practitioner’s patients after failed abortions, told the Fort Wayne newspaper at the time the bill is needed.

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“I’m disappointed because patients are being harmed and the powers that be aren’t taking action to protect the women,” Cly said. “How can we hold him accountable like the rest of surgeons? Admission privileges are one way. If anyone has any other ways, let me know.”

According to Americans United for Life, a national pro-life group that promotes state legislation, abortion practitioners in twelve states are required to maintain local hospital admitting privileges. These states include Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Utah.