The Mississippi House approved a measure Monday afternoon that would allow the state health department to license freestanding emergency departments, but a critic says the bill could also further restrict abortion access in Mississippi.

Backers of the legislation say it could help rural areas of Mississippi that lack hospitals and other health-care providers. But during the presentation of the bill, Rep. Adrienne Wooten, D-Jackson, asked Public Health Committee Chairman Rep. Sam Mims, R-McComb, why the emergency-room bill contained language about abortion.

Rep. Sam Mims, R-McComb
Rep. Sam Mims, R-McComb Credit: Gil Ford Photography

Mims said the language was already part of state law and that the bill would not change any abortion regulations. The bill passed 81-34.

However, the bill text has new language stating that “any abortion facility that begins operation after June 30, 1996, shall not be located within one thousand five hundred (1,500) feet from the property on which any church, school or kindergarten is located.”

Diane Derzis, owner of the last freestanding abortion clinic in Mississippi, believes the bill would change state law even though her Jackson Women’s Health Organization would not be affected. Derzis sent the proposed legislation to her attorneys for review.

“Something’s not right here,” said Derzis, a former lobbyist in Alabama.

Jackson Women’s Health Organization has fought a 2012 state law that requires doctors at freestanding abortion clinics to have admitting privileges at a local hospital. That case is currently before the U.S. Supreme Court.

On March 22, the Alabama Senate approved a similar bill that would prohibit the state from licensing abortion clinics from moving within 2,000 feet of a K-8 school. In 2014, an abortion clinic that relocated to a residential neighborhood in Huntsville spurred a lawsuit. The clinic was able to continue operating after a temporary closure.

A message left for Sen. Terry Burton, R-Newton, who sponsored the Mississippi legislation was not immediately returned Monday evening.

Creative Commons License

Republish our articles for free, online or in print, under a Creative Commons license.

R.L. Nave

R.L. Nave

Ryan L. Nave, a native of University City, Mo., served as Mississippi Today's editor-in-chief from May 2018 until April 2020. Ryan began his career with Mississippi Today February 2016 as an original member of the editorial team. He became news editor August 2016. Ryan has a bachelor’s in political science from the University of Missouri-Columbia and has worked for Illinois Times and served as news editor for the Jackson Free Press.