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Mississippi's only abortion clinic faces threat of shutdown

By Rich Phillips, CNN
updated 3:56 PM EST, Wed November 28, 2012
The owners of Mississippi's only abortion clinic will fight a law in federal court that could force it to close.
The owners of Mississippi's only abortion clinic will fight a law in federal court that could force it to close.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The Jackson Women's Health Organization is the only abortion clinic in Mississippi
  • The clinic's doctors have been unable to get admitting privileges at local hospitals
  • One state lawmaker says the aim of the law is to protect women's health

(CNN) -- The owners of Mississippi's only abortion clinic are headed back to federal court in another attempt to stop a new state law which could close its doors -- effectively banning abortion in the state.

The Jackson Women's Health Organization filed for a preliminary injunction Wednesday to delay enforcement of the new law. Clinic officials say House Bill 1390, which was signed into law in April, imposes unnecessary guidelines and requires abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at a local hospital. The clinic's doctors have been unable to gain those privileges.

"We've done everything we can to comply with this law and have been shut down at every juncture," said Diane Derzis, the clinic's president and owner.

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"Hopefully we'll get a federal judge to see that the state of Mississippi has effectively banned abortion in the state and we hope the judge declares it unconstitutional," she told CNN.

In July, a federal judge in Jackson, Mississippi, temporarily blocked the law from going into effect to allow the clinic time to comply with it, and stopped the state from imposing civil and criminal penalties against the organization.

If the federal court does not grant a preliminary injunction while the clinic fights the constitutionality of the law, it could close down as early as February.

"Anti-choice politicians were very clear that they had one thing in mind when they passed this law: to shut down Mississippi's only abortion clinic," said Nancy Northup, president and CEO at the Center for Reproductive Rights. "It isn't a surprise to anyone that the physicians at the Jackson Women's Health Organization haven't been able to obtain admitting privileges at any local hospital."

But the law's sponsor, state Rep. Sam Mims, told CNN the measure's purpose was not to eliminate abortion.

"We're protecting the health of women by giving them professional care," he said.

"I believe life begins at conception and I think a lot of Mississippians do as well. If this legislation causes less abortion, then that's a good thing," Mims added.

The clinic says it has not been able to secure hospital privileges at any of the 12 hospitals in the area. In a denial letter filed as part of the court record, one of the facilities -- Crossgates River Oaks Hospital in nearby Brandon -- wrote that the nature of the clinic's medical practice "is inconsistent with this hospital's policies and practices as concerns abortion and, in particular, elective abortions... The nature of your proposed medical practice would lead to both an internal and external disruption of the hospital's function and business within this community."

One legal expert says this fight is wrapped in the cloak of conservative religion in one of the most conservative, religious states in the nation.

"A lot of facilities and hospitals, no doubt, don't want to... be labeled as the one facility that's hospitable to providing abortions," said Prof. W. Martin Wiseman, director of the Stennis Institute of Government at Mississippi State University.

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