By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal
JACKSON – The state’s lone abortion clinic can continue operating under a temporary restraining order extended Wednesday by a federal judge after a two-hour hearing.
U.S. District Judge Daniel Jordan extended the order while awaiting new evidence from the state – rules adopted by the Mississippi Department of Health earlier in the day about enforcing a new state law.
It’s unknown when the state will provide that evidence or how long Jordan will take before granting or denying the preliminary injunction sought by the Jackson Women’s Health Organization.
Attorneys for the abortion clinic, the only one in Mississippi, said they have no idea when to expect a decision.
The question of whether the law violates the U.S. Constitution, as claimed by the clinic, won’t be determined in the outcome of this hearing, Jordan said. At issue is whether the clinic will face irreparable harm if Jordan allows the state to enforce a law requiring the clinic’s doctors to be certified OB-GYNs and have admitting privileges at a local hospital.
The doctors already are certified OB-GYNs, but they haven’t been able to get hospital privileges since launching that process in May. Clinic attorneys argue that’s because the law was aimed at closing the clinic by making compliance nearly impossible.
But state attorneys claimed that’s just speculation. The hospitals haven’t denied privileges; they simply haven’t yet granted them. And the state Department of Health will give the clinic ample time to continue its efforts before revoking its license to operate, said Benjamin Bryant, special assistant to the attorney general.
Attorneys for the state said it’s the state’s right to enforce laws that it deems necessary to protect women’s health.
“Protecting maternal health is a legitimate state interest,” Bryant said.
The judge asked about public comments from elected officials about their desire to see the law end abortion in Mississippi. Clinic attorneys argued that the comments reveal the true intention of the law. State attorneys argued that officials simply spoke from the heart but that it in no way influenced the language of the law.
If the clinic closes, Mississippi would be the only state without an abortion clinic.
The Legislature passed the law earlier this year and it was signed into law by Gov. Phil Bryant, who said at the time he wants the state to be abortion-free.
Other top officials, including Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, have made similar comments.
The law took effect July 1, but the state has been unable to enforce it. Jordan granted a temporary restraining order preventing the state from doing so at the request of the clinic.
The order was to expire Wednesday but will remain in effect until Jordan grants or denies the preliminary injunction.