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.
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.