State abortion restriction blocked by Supreme Court

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Officers stand watch over the plaza at the Supreme Court in Washington on Monday

J. Scott Applewhite, AP

Officers stand watch over the plaza at the Supreme Court in Washington on Monday.

The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday rejected Mississippi’s efforts to impose new restrictions on abortion, following on its ruling Monday striking down a Texas law with similar restrictions.

In an unsigned order, the high court declined to hear an appeal of a 5th Circuit Court of Appeals decision blocking implementation of a 2012 law aimed at regulating Mississippi abortion clinics.

A similar law in Wisconsin was also blocked by the court from becoming law on 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.

Rep. Sam Mims, R-McComb, who sponsored Mississippi’s bill said he is disappointed by the ruling.

Rep. Sam Mims, R-McComb

Gil Ford Photography

Rep. Sam Mims, R-McComb

“This legislation is about women’s health. We pray that nothing goes wrong during this procedure, but we know that sometimes things go bad. The Legislature believes that that physician should follow the patient to a hospital. I believe the Supreme Court chose access to an abortion over the health care of a woman,” Mims told Mississippi Today.

Writing for the court’s majority in the Texas case, Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, Justice Stephen Breyer addressed the health-and-safety argument of abortion opponents.

“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,” Breyer wrote.

Staci Fox, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Southeast, echoed Breyer in a statement, saying: “We all want to protect patient safety, but admitting privileges won’t do that. Abortion providers have rigorous standards and training for staff as well as emergency plans in place because women’s safety is our first priority. Data, including from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), shows that abortion has over a 99 percent safety record. There is absolutely no medical basis to require abortion providers to have local hospital admitting privileges.”

In the most recent legislative session, Mississippi lawmakers voted to prohibit Medicaid from reimbursing abortion clinics. Planned Parenthood operates one facility in the state, in Hattiesburg, but that clinic does not perform abortions.

If enacted, Mississippi’s law would have applied to the last 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.

“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,” Nancy Northup said after Monday’s decision. Northrup is 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, (Monday’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.

“This measure is designed to protect the health and safety of women who undergo this potentially dangerous procedure, and physicians who provide abortions should be held to the same standards as physicians who perform other outpatient procedures,” Gov. Phil Bryant said in a statement issued Tuesday.

“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.”

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.