Rogelio V. Solis / AP
Terri Herring, an anti-abortion activist, holds a photograph of a women's clinic in Jackson that performs abortions, at the Capitol in Jackson, Miss., on Tuesday.
A bill passed by Mississippi lawmakers putting new restrictions on doctors performing abortions moves the state one step closer to becoming “abortion free.”
There is only one abortion clinic in the state, and the owner, Diane Derzis, has said the bill’s requirements could force it to shut down.
“It looks dire for them,” said Leola Reis, vice president for external affairs for Planned Parenthood Southeast.
The bill, which passed the state Senate on Wednesday, would require doctors performing abortions to be board-certified OB-GYNs and to have admitting privileges at a local hospital in case a woman undergoing an abortion needs to be immediately hospitalized. The House previously passed the bill, and after a comment period it goes to Republican Gov. Phil Bryant for his expected signature.
Derzis, owner of the Jackson Women’s Health Organization in Jackson, told The Associated Press that while all doctors on her staff are certified OB-GYNs, only one of them has admitting privileges to a local hospital. The clinic's doctors live out of state and hospitals usually don't grant such privileges to non-Mississippi physicians, she said.
Derzis has previously said that she would go to court to challenge the bill if it becomes law.“We're not going to leave the women of Mississippi high and dry,” she told Reuters on Tuesday.
Supporters of the bill have made it no secret they would like to see the state’s sole provider of abortions shut down.
“These are strong, common-sense pro-life bills that will not only end abortion in Mississippi but will enhance efforts to protect children from abuse,” Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves said in a statement Wednesday.
Bryant, the Republican governor who prides himself as a backer of “traditional values,” also hailed the Senate passage.
"This legislation is an important step in strengthening abortion regulations and protecting the health and safety of women. As governor, I will continue to work to make Mississippi abortion-free," he said in a separate statement.
Dr. Beverly McMillan of Jackson, a retired OB-GYN who in 1975 opened the first abortion clinic in the state but later came to oppose abortions, says anyone performing an abortion should have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. (Admitting privileges are an arrangement whereby doctors can refer patients to a hospital if further treatment is warranted).
"If you're going to do outpatient surgery that has the possibility of injuries, you should have a quick route to get those patients into a hospital,” McMillan, who is now an officer of the Christian organization Pro-Life Mississippi, was quoted as saying Tuesday at the state Capitol by the AP. “And if you're a decent doctor, you'll be the doctor that admits them and takes care of their complication."
Critics say the bill is misguided and endangers the health and safety of pregnant women rather than ensuring it.
Reis, of Planned Parenthood Southeast, noted Mississippians last year rejected a statewide “personhood” referendum that would have defined a fertilized egg as a person. “Mississippians believe that this is a level of government intrusion that is completely inappropriate,” she told msnbc.com.
"It's obvious the intention of supporters is that they would like Mississippi to be an abortion-free state. Their goal in passing this legislation is to end abortion in Mississippi," said Jordan Goldberg, state advocacy counsel with the Center for Reproductive Rights.
She told msnbc.com that singling out physicians who perform abortions "raises serious constitutional questions." The center has represented the Mississippi clinic in previous legal matters but Goldberg wouldn't comment on whether it would go to court to try to quash the new bill.
If the state’s sole abortion clinic shuts down, women would have to go to another state to get a legal abortion.
“It really punishes poor women. The cost of travel, the cost of child care, missing work in order to leave the state, really punishes the most vulnerable Mississippians,” Reis said.
Derzis said the bill is misguided and a waste of Mississippi taxpayer dollars. “I think it’s very sad when Mississippi has the ranking that it does as one of the poorest states in the nation, if not the poorest, highest in maternal mortality, that we are worried about passing laws that have no bearing on women’s health,” Derzis was quoted as saying by Mississippi Public Broadcasting.
According to the Guttmacher Institute, a think-tank that works to advance reproductive rights including abortion rights, Mississippi is among fewer than a handful of states that have just one abortion clinic. In 2008, the latest year for which complete figures are available, about 2,770 abortions were performed in Mississippi, out of roughly 1.2 million procedures nationwide.
"Mississippi stands as one of the most restrictive states in the nation with regard to abortion, along with state such as Kansas and South Dakota," said Elizabeth Nash, state issues manager with the Guttmacher Institute.
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