By Jueseppi B.
JACKSON — (STORY WAS UPDATED AS HEARING PROGRESSED) In front of a federal judge who will decide whether or not women can still get abortions in the Mississippi, state attorneys for the new law said that the governor and lieutenant governor’s statements about its intent shouldn’t matter because they did not author the controversial bill.
The hearing comes 10 days after federal Judge Dan Jordan issued an injunction against the clinic closing on July 1, as a state law championed by Gov. Phil Bryant and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves would have caused. The law requires all doctors working at the Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the state’s only remaining abortion clinic, to have admitting privileges at a local hospital—which are hard to come by for doctors performing abortions. Both Bryant and Reeves, as well as other lawmakers and Pro-Life Mississippi lobbyists, have openly stated for months that their purpose is to eliminate abortion in the state of Mississippi.
In his July 1 injunction order, Jordan questioned the motive of the bill’s backers—pointing out that they seem more focused on eliminating access to abortion—a constitutional right—than in protecting the health of women.
At the hearing today, which started at 1 p.m., state attorneys urged Jordan to look only at the bill’s language for its intent, and not at public officials’ language about its motive. Jordan said that public officials’ statements on ending abortion is “unlike anything I’ve seen before.”
Attorneys for the clinic said that it has one doctor with admitting privileges but that the doctor cannot perform all abortions. Two-thirds of Mississippi women, therefore, would not have access to the constitutionally protected practice. They also said that, since Jordan’s injunction, no backers of the law had disavowed that is was about ending abortion in Mississippi, just downplayed it.
One key argument is over the question of admitting privileges and whether or not doctors can actually get them going forward.
Judge Jordan emphasized that the case is unique because nobody knows for sure whether doctors for the clinic will be able to get admitting privileges.
Jackson attorney Rob McDuff, part of the team fighting to keep the clinic open, argued that the law would result in “irreparable harm” on m any levels, including the cost of defending it. He pointed that neither Attorney General Jim Hood or District Attorney Robert Shuler Smith have offered assurances that clinic doctors and nurses wouldn’t be prosecuted for continuing abortions even in an interim period while the law is being sorted out enough to start enforcing the law.
McDuff told the court that a temporary injunction is appropriate until they can determine what happens with admitting privileges. He said that in a matter of weeks, it will be apparent if admitting privileges have been granted, denied or if hospitals are dragging their feet over them.
Opponents of abortion hope that local hospitals will not give abortion doctors admitting privileges, including those willing to come to Mississippi from out of state to perform the procedure.
The state argued that “irreparable harm” is speculative at this point—which seems to play into plaintiffs’ argument that they do not have enough information about access to admitting privileges to know whether hospitals will help eliminate abortion by not granting admitting privileges.
McDuff said that access to abortion in the clinic is not a public-health emergency and that nobody can say what a reasonable amount of time could be for the clinic to come into compliance with the new law. If doctors can obtain admitting privileges within the enforcement window, there is no burden on the access to abortion, McDuff added.
An attorney for the state responded that there has never been a threat of prosecution of any of the abortion providers.
Attorney Michelle Movahed of the Center for Reproductive Rights said the abortion clinic has applied for admitting privileges at every local hospital and that the timetable for a response is out of the clinic’s control. The law limits the pool of abortion providers who can come to the state, the attorney added, and would make it difficult to recruit more if needed.
Movahed said the whole point is that the law has an unconstitutional purpose to interfere with access to abortion in Mississippi.
After the two-hour hearing, the judge agreed to extend the restraining order until he can read Mississippi Board of Health rules. He said he would issue an order at that point.
(Note: Donna Ladd wrote this story during the hearing based on updates from R.L. Nave in the federal courthouse. Shout-out to additional tweets by Daniel Cherry of MPB and Jeff Amy and Emily Pettus of the Associated Press for courtroom activity. Watch for an update from R.L. Nave after he returns from the courthouse.)
“BARACK” The Vote
Filed under: 2012 Election, Abortion Rights, Affordable Health Care Act, Causes, Court Room/Legal, Education, Good News, Joy & Happiness, News, Politics, The White House, Women's Causes Tagged: | Abortion clinic, abortion rights, Gov. Phil Bryant, Injunction, Jackson, Jackson Women's Health Organization, Jim Hood, Jordan, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, Mississippi, Phil Bryant, Tate Reeves