Supreme Court abortion ruling could nullify Mississippi law

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Stephen Breyer, associate justice, U.S. Supreme Court.

Steve Petteway/Wikimedia

Stephen Breyer, associate justice, U.S. Supreme Court.

A 2012 law aimed at regulating Mississippi abortion clinics could be struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court as early as Tuesday.

Monday morning, the nation’s highest court ruled by a 5 to 3 vote that a similar law passed in Texas is unconstitutional. In 2013, Texas passed a law requiring abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at a local hospital and for abortion clinics to meet the same building standards as ambulatory surgical facilities.

Texas’ law came a year after  Mississippi lawmakers approved a bill requiring abortion doctors at freestanding clinics to be board-certified OB/GYNs and to obtain admitting privileges at a local hospital.

Writing for the court’s majority in the case, Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, Justice Stephen Breyer said, “We conclude that neither of these provisions offers medical benefits sufficient to justify the burdens upon access that each imposes. Each places a substantial obstacle in the path of women seeking a previability abortion, each constitutes an undue burden on abortion access … and each violates the Federal Constitution.”

Opponents of Mississippi’s law believe justices will issue an order saying that the Texas decision applies to Mississippi and Louisiana, both of which have appeals pending at the Supreme Court.

If enacted, Mississippi’s law would apply to one abortion clinic in the state, Jackson Women’s Health Organization. The clinic sued the state shortly after the admitting privileges law was passed, arguing that because no hospitals would grant it admitting privileges, the clinic would have to close. Closing the clinic would violate women’s rights to have abortions under Roe vs. Wade, attorneys for Jackson Women’s Health and Whole Woman’s Health argued.

“Today women across the nation have had their constitutional rights vindicated. The Supreme Court sent a loud and clear message that politicians cannot use deceptive means to shut down abortion clinics,” said Nancy Northup, president and chief executive officer of the Center for Reproductive Rights, which represented Whole Woman’s Health, a group of women’s clinics in several cities, and is representing the Jackson clinic as well.

“Without question, today’s ruling is a game changer in what has been an unrelenting assault on women’s rights across the country,” she said. “This tremendous victory renews the promise of Roe v. Wade for the next generation. We will not stop fighting until access is restored for all women in the U.S.”

Diane Derzis, owner of the Jackson clinic, told Mississippi Today that after fearing the case might end in a 4-4 tie, she is “jubilant” about the decision.

“It’s a major win for women and their families,” Derzis said.

Mississippi officials who promoted the clinic law see the ruling differently.

“The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision today endangers the lives of women and their unborn children in Mississippi and all across America,” Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves said in a press release. “States should have the ability to protect their citizens through proper regulation of medical care.”

Speaker of the Mississippi House Philip Gunn

Gil Ford Photography

House Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton

House Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, had the same reaction.

“I’m disappointed with the decision made by the U.S. Supreme Court. The legislation struck down today is designed to protect women and their unborn children. For those of us who believe in the sanctity of human life, this ruling is a major setback,” Gunn said through a statement.