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Judge: Mississippi's anti-abortion law should remain blocked

Reuters

Diane Derzis, owner of Mississippi's lone abortion clinic, sits in the reception area. She has challenged a law that could shut down her facility.

Updated at 6:36 p.m. ET: A federal judge on Wednesday said he would continue to block a state law that threatens to shut down Mississippi’s only abortion clinic.

U.S. District Judge Daniel P. Jordan III, who was appointed to the bench by former President George W. Bush, had delayed the law’s implementation on July 1 with a temporary restraining order. After his decision on Wednesday not to lift the order, it is unclear how long the law will now be delayed.

At issue is a law that abortion rights advocates say is a thinly veiled attempt to ban the procedure in Mississippi. Supporters of the measure argue it is necessary to ensure women's safety.


The law, signed by Republican Governor Phil Bryant in April, requires physicians who perform abortions to be board-certified in obstetrics and gynecology, and to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital.

The clinic, Jackson Women's Health Organization, says it has been unable to obtain admitting privileges for its two out-of-state OB-GYNs because local hospitals have not responded to their requests.

In his July 1 ruling to temporarily block the law, Judge Jordan wrote that the plaintiffs, the state’s sole abortion clinic, “have offered evidence — including quotes from significant legislative and executive officers — that the Act’s purpose is to eliminate abortions in Mississippi. They likewise submitted evidence that no safety or health concerns motivated its passage. This evidence has not yet been rebutted.”

In his opening arguments on Wednesday, Jordan said, according to WAPT.com, “This is a court of law, not a political debate.”

Later, the jude said, according to The Jackson Free Press, that the case is unique because it is unclear whether doctors for the clinic will be able to get admitting privileges.

Mississippi, which had as many as 14 abortion providers in the early 1980s, would be the only state without an abortion clinic should the clinic, based in Jackson, Miss., close. The clinic opened in 1996; in the last 18 months, the clinic has performed about 3,000 abortions, according to court papers.  

Mississippi already has some of the country's strictest abortion laws and one of the lowest abortion rates. It also has the highest teen pregnancy rate in the United States - more than 60 percent above the national average in 2010.

Supporters of the law say it's designed to protect patients. But Republican Gov. Phil Bryant has said openly that he hopes it will make Mississippi "abortion-free."

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“Usually elected officials at least pretend that the law is about health and safety,” Attorney Michelle Movahed told msnbc.com. “But the elected officials have openly said they would like this law to close down the state’s only abortion clinic.”

Although officials changed their tune somewhat when litigation started, no one has renounced their earlier hopes that the law could shutter the clinic, Movahed said.

“No one said, ‘Oh crap, we didn’t realize the effect this would have on the clinic,” she said.

Clinic owner Diane Derzis said that since she acquired Jackson Women's Health Organization in 2010, no woman has had to be taken from the clinic by ambulance. Additionally, if the clinic closed, the closest clinics to Jackson are about 200 miles away, in Louisiana, Tennessee and Alabama.

Mississippi physicians who perform fewer than 10 abortions a month can avoid having their offices regulated as an abortion clinic, and thus avoid restrictions in the new law. The clinic's owner has said the clinic is unlikely to stay open and perform that few abortions per month. The Health Department said it doesn't have a record of how many physicians perform fewer than 10 abortions a month.

Clinic operators say almost all the abortions in the state are done in their building. They say in court papers that the clinic did about 3,000 abortions in 18 months.

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The U.S. Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision in 1973 established a nationwide right to abortion. In 1992, the court's decision in Planned Parenthood v. Casey upheld the Roe decision and allowed states to regulate abortions before fetuses are viable.

But, as supporters of Mississippi clinic point out, the 1992 decision also said states may not place undue burdens or substantial obstacles to women seeking abortion.

The Associated Press, Reuters and msnbc.com's Isolde Raftery contributed to this report.

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