Clinic widens challenge of Mississippi abortion restrictions
JACKSON, Miss. — Mississippi’s only abortion clinic is expanding its challenge of a state law that bans abortion after 15 weeks.
The clinic, Jackson Women’s Health Organization, filed papers Monday asking a federal court to block state restrictions that have been the law for years, including a 24-hour waiting period that requires a woman to make two trips to the clinic — one for counseling and one to have the abortion.
The 15-week ban is the most restrictive abortion law in the United States, and the clinic sued the state hours after Republican Gov. Phil Bryant signed it into law March 19. A federal judge put it on hold the next day. The clinic argues that the 15-week ban is unconstitutional because it prohibits abortion about eight weeks before a fetus can survive outside the womb.
Nancy Northup is president and CEO of the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights, which represents the clinic. She said the Mississippi restrictions are about “shaming women” and reducing access to abortion.
“As the restrictions pile up and women face higher and higher barriers to the care that they need, young people, women of color, those who live in rural areas and low-income populations suffer the greatest harm,” Northup said Monday in a conference call with reporters.
Other longstanding Mississippi restriction being challenged Monday are a requirement that all abortions must be done by a physician and the counseling mandate that the clinic says makes providers give “false, misleading and medically irrelevant information” to any woman seeking an abortion.
“These laws are designed for one purpose only, and that’s to put us out of business as well as removing a woman’s right to decide her future,” Diane Derzis, who owns the Mississippi abortion clinic, said on the conference call.
Bryant said after signing the 15-week ban that the new law “protects maternal health and will further our efforts to make Mississippi the safest place in America for an unborn child.”
The 15-week ban and responding challenge set up a confrontation sought by abortion opponents, who are hoping federal courts will ultimately prohibit abortions before a fetus is viable. Current federal law does not. Some legal experts have said a change in the law is unlikely unless the makeup of the U.S. Supreme Court changes in a way that favors abortion opponents.
The Mississippi clinic performed 78 abortions in 2017 when the fetus was identified as being 15 weeks or older, the lawsuit says. That’s out of about 2,500 abortions performed statewide, mostly at the clinic.