New law in Mississippi targets the state’s only abortion clinic
Last Monday, the governor of Mississippi, Phil Bryant, signed into law a new bill which could effectively end abortion in the state.
It requires physicians performing abortions to be certified obstetrician-gynaecologists and, crucially, to have admitting privileges at a local hospital.
At Mississippi’s sole abortion clinic, the Jackson Women’s Health Organisation, only one of the three practicing doctors has admitting privileges at the area hospital.
Needless to say, they are not easy to obtain, particularly in the ‘Bible Belt’ state where many hospitals have religious affiliations.
Governor Bryant has made no secret of his desire to make Mississippi the first ‘abortion free’ state. In a statement released on Monday he said:
“I believe that all human life is precious, and as governor, I will work to ensure that the lives of the born and the unborn are protected in Mississippi.”
Some pro-choice groups have already claimed that the law is unconstitutional and could be challenged.
In 1973 the US Supreme Court made it the constitutional right of every woman to be allowed equal access to abortion in the landmark Roe v. Wade case.
Whilst this law still stands, states such as Mississippi have employed various legal tactics to effectively limit access to abortion.
These include requiring parental consent for minors, compulsory state-sponsored counselling for women seeking an abortion, (which includes information designed to discourage women from having a termination), and an enforced 24 hour waiting period.
Public funding for abortions is only available in cases of life endangerment, rape, incest or fetal abnormality.
Coupled with the fact that there is only one operating abortion clinic for the whole state the result is that Mississippi has significantly lower abortion rates than the US as a whole.
The US rate for abortions is 19.6 per 1000 women of reproductive age, in Mississippi it’s 4.9 per 1000.
Last year the state attempted to introduce additional legislation in a bill known as the ‘Personhood Amendment’ which would have defined life as beginning at the moment of fertilization. This was defeated in November with 58% of the public voting against the bill.
Felicia Brown-Williams of Planned Parenthood has described the new law as a “backdoor ban on abortion”. Owner of the Jackson Women’s clinic, Diane Derzis, has stated that they will do all they can to comply with the new law, but insisted that “if we can’t comply, we’re going to sue”.
If the clinic closes, women in the state seeking an abortion would have few options remaining.
It is possible that they could seek a private abortion from their own doctor; current laws state that doctors performing fewer than 10 abortions per month, or fewer than 100 per year are not required to have their offices registered and monitored as abortion facilities.
The only other choice left open to women would be to travel out of state, but many are simply not in a financial position to do this.
As with any law which restricts women’s access to abortion the greatest risk is that where no safe access is allowed the probability of women seeking ‘backstreet abortions’ increases, and inevitably puts women’s lives at risk.