Federal Judge Prevents Mississippi From Shutting Down Its Last Abortion Clinic

The Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the last remaining abortion clinic in the entire state of Mississippi, has been fighting to stay open for more than a year — ever since Republican lawmakers enacted burdensome regulations solely intended to force the clinic to close its doors. Fortunately, thanks to a decision handed down from a federal judge on Monday evening, Mississippi’s only abortion clinic will be able to remain open.

U.S. District Judge Daniel P. Jordan III’s ruling is not final. But it does effectively block part of the new state law, HB 1390, that posed an imminent threat to the Jackson Women’s Health Organization. HB 1390 requires the clinic’s doctors to obtain admitting privileges from a local hospital, an arbitrary and medically unnecessary rule that doesn’t actually have anything to do with ensuring women’s safety. All seven of the area’s hospitals have denied those privileges, and the abortion clinic faced penalties for failing to comply with the state law. In fact, a hearing was scheduled for later this week so the state’s Department of Health could consider revoking the clinic’s license.

Thanks to Jordan’s ruling, however, that hearing will be canceled — and state officials won’t be able to halt operations at the Jackson clinic just because its doctors can’t get admitting privileges. According to the Mississippi judge, requiring abortion doctors to obtain those privileges from a local hospital represents a direct threat to women’s reproductive rights, since it may “result in a patchwork system where constitutional rights are available in some states but not others.”

The Jackson Women’s Health Organization has been the sole abortion provider for Mississippi women since 2002, and it has served the Jackson community for the past 17 years. Nancy Northrup, the president of the Center for Reproductive Rights — the group representing the clinic in its lawsuit against the state — said in a statement that the judge’s decision will allow “the women of Mississippi to breathe a collective sigh of relief.”

But Northrup also cautioned that the fight over these types of abortion restrictions is far from over. “The battle doesn’t stop at the defeat of this one law,” she pointed out.

The over-regulation of abortion providers is an incredibly effective attack on women’s reproductive freedom — rather than banning the procedure itself, abortion opponents hope to make it virtually inaccessible by forcing clinics to close their doors — and it’s advancing in states across the country. At least six other states are currently pushing legislation specifically intended to target abortion clinics. Just earlier this month, Alabama approved new restrictions that are directly modeled on Mississippi’s.