Temporary Victory for Mississippi Abortion Rights Activists

Mississippi Governor, Phil Bryant
Mississippi Governor, Phil Bryant
Mississippi Governor, Phil Bryant

Pro-choice advocates all over can breathe a tepid sigh of relief. U.S. District Judge Daniel Jordan has extended a temporary order to allow Mississippi’s lone abortion clinic to stay open, despite efforts by that state’s government to close it’s doors. It’s not a total win – we won’t really be able to relax until the judge completes his review of how Mississippi plans to administer the law. Fingers are crossed that the ultimate ruling reflects the fact that this law, House Bill 1390, imposes undue burdens upon the state’s only abortion clinic and by extension, the women of Mississippi. Had things gone the other way, Mississippi would have become a shining example to anti-choice forces in similarly-situated states looking to ban abortion by targeting the sole facilities providing that service within their borders. Since that’s still a possibility, you should understand what this is all about?

Think about it like this: say that I grant you the power and right to open any vault in the country and give permission to take out as much money, gold and jewels you like without impunity. That’s right, you can go on ahead, no one’s stopping you. Except for the fact that I surrounded every vault with trigger happy snipers and a moat full of piranhas swimming in acid. Still want to exercise your right to get that cash?

Ok, my analogy is out there but it’s not much more extreme than what’s happening in reality. Mississippi is on the cusp of ending abortion in the entire state by making an end-run around the 14th Amendment, the legal basis undergirding the right to abortion. The legislature didn’t place the state’s only abortion clinic in the middle of a piranha-filled moat but what they’ve done has the potential to be just as dangerous. Governor Phil Bryant signed HB 1390 requiring all doctors performing abortions in Mississippi to be board-certified OB-GYNs and have admitting privileges at a local hospital. To those unfamiliar with the law and the bureaucracy of our health care system, this probably sounds benign. Why shouldn’t an abortion provider be an OB-GYN? Why shouldn’t he/she be affiliated with a local hospital? Aren’t all doctors? Let’s break this down:

  • Requirement 1: Board Certified OB-GYN – HB 1390 amends the definition of “abortion facility” to state that all physicians “associated with an abortion facility must be board certified or eligible in obstetrics and gynecology” (H.B. 1390 §1). But board certification isn’t necessary for the safe provision of abortion services. Contrary to what you may think, abortion isn’t a major surgery. Many doctors trained in family medicine can perform abortions just fine. Narrowing Mississippi abortions to doctors who chose to specialize in OB-GYN would only serve to severely limit access. Besides, Mississippi has already been over this issue. In 1996, a federal district court struck down regulations requiring physicians performing abortions in the state to have completed a residency in OB-GYN in Pro-Choice Mississippi v. Thompson because the state failed to show a “reasonable medical necessity directed to preserve the woman’s health” in the requirement.
  • Requirement 2: Local Admitting Privileges – The bill states that all physicians “associated with the abortion facility must have admitting privileges at a local hospital and staff privileges to replace local hospital on-staff physicians” (H.B. 1390 §1). To grant privileges, many hospitals require physicians to live within a short distance of the hospital and to admit a minimum number of patients a year, often 10 or more,” a medical researcher told Bloomberg News. We’ve been over this, abortions before 16 weeks are extremely safe, even more so than carrying a pregnancy to full term! The overall complication rate for abortion care nationwide is less than 1%. There simply aren’t enough abortion-related complications that would meet the requirement of admitting 10 patients per year.

Now hopefully you can see HB 1390 for what it is, a blatant attempt by the Mississippi government to ban abortion in the state, Constitution be damned. They’re not even hiding it. You can see State Representative Bubba Carpenter on YouTube sounding pretty proud of his self for throwing women under the bus. In response, The Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the state’s sole abortion clinic raised a challenge to the bill, suing to prevent it from going into effect. As a result the law was unable to go into effect on July 1 as planned until a judge had an opportunity to weigh in on its legality. Which brings us to yesterday and Judge Daniel’s extension.

This Mississippi thing is major but it’s nothing compared to what could happen if the other states where there is only one abortion provider (North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, and Arkansas) see this as a viable method for sneaking an abortion ban past the rights established by Roe v. Wade and subsequent decisions. Because making abortion illegal (or incredibly difficult to obtain) does not prevent women from seeking out abortions when they need them, we could see women forced to make choices she should not have to under the rights guaranteed by the Constitution. Women who cannot travel out of state may not be able to obtain a safe abortion at all. What will the Mississippi legislature think when women are getting hurt by unsafe procedures or forced to carry unintended children to term? I think they’ll say job well done but I hope Judge Daniels spoils their party.