Mississippi Abortion Ruling Raises Questions of Women’s Health

A federal court ruled the right to an abortion demands the state’s only abortion center stay open, even though its doctors can’t get hospital admitting privileges.

Jackson Women's Health Organization is the only abortion center in Mississippi.
Jackson Women's Health Organization is the only abortion center in Mississippi. (photo: Peter Zelasko/CNA)

JACKSON, Miss. — A federal appeals court has drawn criticism for blocking a 2012 Mississippi law requiring abortionists to have admitting privileges at local hospitals.

“The issue has been so politicized that people don’t use their common sense when it comes to this issue,” said Dana Cody, president and executive director of Life Legal Defense Foundation, a nonprofit that provides legal assistance in pro-life cases.

“[For] any other surgery, the physician has admitting privileges somewhere. Why does abortion get a pass?” she said to CNA. Cody suggested that it is simply “more rhetoric to try to justify exploiting women.”

Cody responded to a July 29 decision by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals against the Mississippi law on the grounds that enforcing it would close the state’s only remaining abortion facility.

In a 2-to-1 vote, the court said that requiring abortionists to obtain admitting privileges at hospitals within 30 miles of their facilities would in turn create an “undue burden” on women in the “exercise of their constitutional rights” to have an abortion.

Judge E. Grady Jolly argued that “Mississippi may not shift its obligation to respect the established constitutional rights of its citizens to another state.”

At the Jackson Women’s Health Clinic, the only abortion facility in the state, just one of the three doctors who perform abortions there was able to obtain admitting privileges at a local hospital.

The other two doctors, who perform the majority of the abortions, were turned down because the hospital found the doctors’ medical practices to be “inconsistent with this [h]ospital’s policies and practices as concerns abortion.”

The court ruled that since the doctors were unable to obtain admitting privileges as H.B. 1390 required, the facility would presumably have to shut down, therefore leaving no abortion facilities open in the state.

Diane Derzis, owner of Jackson Women’s Health Clinic, has been the subject of controversy for years. In 2012, the state of Alabama shut down her Birmingham abortion facility, New Woman All Women, after the state determined that it was operating without a proper license.

An inspection by the Alabama Public Health Department yielded 76 pages worth of deficiencies in the facility dating back to 2003, including inadequate staff training that sent three people to the hospital for drug overdoses.

At her Mississippi abortion facility, pro-life sidewalk counselors captured video of what appeared to be a patient being wheeled out to an ambulance, despite staff members’ attempts to block the cameras.

Cody said that the law requiring doctors to have admitting privileges is a matter of health and safety for women.

If a doctor does not have these privileges, the care of the patient is transferred to the emergency responders and hospital staff, who generally have little information about the woman’s condition or medical history.

“When a woman gets transported to a hospital, the same physician isn’t there,” Cody said, “so it prolongs the process, and it puts the woman who has been injured in further danger.”

She added that the ruling will likely be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court and that her organization will file a “friend of the court” brief supporting the 2012 law.