Appeals Court Stops Pro-Life Law That Could Have Made Mississippi Abortion Free

State   |   Steven Ertelt, Cheryl Sullenger   |   Jul 29, 2014   |   3:00PM   |   Jackson, MS

A federal appeals court has stopped a pro-life law that could have made Mississippi the first state to be abortion free.

A three member panel of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments earlier this year concerning the constitutionality of Mississippi’s law that requires abortionists to maintain hospital privileges within 30 miles of their abortion clinic. If allowed to be enforced, the law could close the Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the only abortion clinic in the State of Mississippi.

judgepic10The appellate court upheld a lower court injunction suspending the law, though it narrowed the scope of the stay to apply only to the parties in the case — namely the lone Mississippi abortion facility.

The abortion facility could not obtain admitting privileges at a local hospital and would have been forced to close out of noncompliance with the law.

The appeals court said the fact that women would have to travel out of state for an abortion was an undue burden making it so the law can’t stand.

Writing for the majority, Judge E. Grady Jolly stated: “Mississippi may not shift its obligation to respect the established constitutional rights of its citizens to another state. Such a proposal would not only place an undue burden on the exercise of the constitutional right, but would also disregard a state’s obligation under the principle of federalism—applicable to all fifty states—to accept the burden of the non-delegable duty of protecting the established federal constitutional rights of its own citizens.”

“As a result, we hold that JWHO has demonstrated a substantial likelihood of success on its claim that H.B. 1390’s admission-privileges requirement imposes an undue burden on a woman’s right to choose an abortion in Mississippi, and is therefore unconstitutional as applied to the plaintiffs in this case. Finally, we hold that, to the extent the district court’s preliminary injunction enjoined enforcement of H.B. 1390 against parties other than the plaintiffs in this case, it was overly broad and is modified to apply only to the parties in this case. Accordingly, the judgment of the district court granting the preliminary injunction is affirmed,” he wrote.

But one leading pro-life advocate says the law is really about protecting women from shoddy abortion clinics that botch abortions and put women’s lives and health at risk.

“This case is really about whether the courts will compel the State of Mississippi to allow abortion clinics to continue subjecting women to below standard care. Pregnant women are currently being treated as second-class citizens and are being denied the same high standard of care that everyone else expects. However, the Jackson Women’s Health Organization can’t and won’t raise their standards for the safety of their patients. That says a lot about their agenda, which places abortion profits above the lives of women,” said Troy Newman, President of Operation Rescue.

Hospital privilege requirements have been enacted in several states and are being considered in others.

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Last April, a different three-member panel of the Fifth Circuit found that a nearly similar provision in Texas’ HB2 abortion law created no “undue burden” on women seeking abortion and allowed the state to enforce it. That has resulted in the closure of numerous Texas abortion clinics.

However, the three-member panel that heard arguments indicated that closing Mississippi’s last abortion clinic might be more difficult due to concerns that crossing state lines for abortions might create a different set of legal issues.

“Seems to me you’ve got a steep hill to climb,” noted Judge E. Grady Jolly at the beginning of the proceedings.

Paul Eldridge Barnes, who argued for the State of Mississippi, noted that already thousands of Mississippi women cross state lines every year for abortions in neighboring states. Julie Rickelman of the Center for Reproductive Rights indicated that neighboring states were also attempting to pass hospital privilege requirements, which could close abortion clinics that are close to Mississippi.

“It is troubling that some would put keeping an abortion business open ahead of the safety of women,” said Newman. “Closing a dangerous clinic like the Jackson Women’s Health Organization would actually protect women and save lives.”

Contrary to Rickelman’s claim that the JWHO employees “competent physicians,” Operation Rescue has documentation that says otherwise.

One of the primary abortionists employed by JWHO owner Diane Derzis is Bruce Elliot Norman. Norman was caught by pro-life activists operating an illegal abortion business with Derzis in Birmingham, Alabama, which was ordered to halt operations by a judge in August, 2013.

Elliot was also responsible for sending three abortion patients to the hospital on the same day in January, 2012, that resulted in complaints to the Alabama Department of Public Health by pro-life groups, including Operation Rescue, CEC for Life, and Life Legal Defense Foundation. Those complaints prompted an inspection of Derzis and Norman’s abortion facility where 76 pages of serious violations were discovered.

Derzis’ and Norman’s shoddy abortion practices are replicated in Jackson, Mississippi, where Operation Rescue has documented a long history of incompetent abortionists and abortion-related injuries, including one last August.

Norman and other abortionists hired by Derzis do not live in Mississippi. Currently, they travel to Mississippi to do abortions, then leave the state. Experts have testified that this has practice leaves women to fend for themselves when complications arise and can delay emergency care in the event of a life-threatening complication.