Bloomberg News

Mississippi Abortion Law Cleared to Take Effect Minus Penalties

July 14, 2012

A Mississippi law that puts new requirements on physicians who perform abortions may take effect for now, a judge said, denying a request by the state’s only abortion clinic to extend a temporary halt on the measure.

U.S. District Judge Daniel Jordan III in Jackson said in a ruling yesterday that Mississippi can’t seek criminal and civil penalties against Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the clinic, during the administrative process for meeting the new requirements. With that condition, there is no risk of irreparable harm with the law in place, the judge said.

The Mississippi lawsuit is backed by lawyers for the Center for Reproductive Rights, which together with the American Civil Liberties Union also represents a group of physicians in Arizona who sued July 12 to block an Arizona law that makes performing an abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy a misdemeanor punishable by as long as six months’ incarceration.

“Today’s decision has ensured, for the time being, that anti-choice politicians in Mississippi cannot relegate the women of their state to a second class of citizens that can be denied their constitutional rights with the stroke of a legislator’s pen,” Nancy Northup, president and chief executive officer of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement.

Single Women

A survey released July 10 by Quinnipiac University showed that single women favor President Barack Obama over presumed Republican nominee Mitt Romney by a 2-1 ratio. Single voters are more focused on issues such as gay rights and reproductive rights, according to Peter Brown, the assistant director of the university polling institute.

Obama, a Democrat, voiced his support for gay marriage in May and favors abortion rights. Romney, a former governor of Massachusetts, said he believes marriage should be between a man and a woman and on July 10 reiterated his opposition to abortion during a campaign stop in Grand Junction, Colorado.

The Mississippi law, which was to take effect July 1, requires physicians associated with an abortion facility to have admitting privileges at a local hospital and be certified or eligible in obstetrics and gynecology. The two doctors at the Jackson facility who perform most of the abortions don’t meet the new requirements yet and are in the process of doing so.

The Arizona statute, which is scheduled to go into effect in about three weeks, is the most extreme ban in the nation, the ACLU said. It would force a physician to wait until a woman’s high-risk pregnancy deteriorates so far that her life is at risk or that she faces major medical damage, according to the ACLU.

Arizona Obstetricians

The lawsuit in Phoenix federal court was brought by three Arizona obstetricians and gynecologists who asked for a judge to rule that the ban violates their patients’ right to due process of law and to bar its enforcement.

“Arizonans expect their attorney general to vigorously defend the state’s laws,” Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne said in a July 12 statement in response to the lawsuit. “As attorney general, I am committed to doing that, and this law will be no exception.”

A call yesterday for comment on the Mississippi ruling to the office of Liz Sharlot, a spokeswoman for the Mississippi Health Department, wasn’t answered after regular business hours.

The Mississippi case is Jackson Women’s Health Organization v. Currier, 12-00436, U.S. District Court, Southern District of Mississippi (Jackson). The Arizona case is Isaacson v. Horne, 12-01501, U.S. District Court, District of Arizona (Phoenix).

To contact the reporter on this story: Edvard Pettersson in Los Angeles at epettersson@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at mhytha@bloomberg.net.


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