By Emily Wagster Pettus/The Associated Press
JACKSON — Mississippi’s only abortion clinic continued seeing patients Tuesday, the day after a federal judge temporarily stopped the state from closing it.
Several people wearing florescent yellow vests labeled “Clinic Escort” helped women find parking places and walked with them into the cherry pink building in a Jackson retail district. Outside an iron fence that separates Jackson Women’s Health Organization from the street, abortion opponents stood on a sidewalk and implored women not to end their pregnancies.
“Mom, come talk to us. Your baby is a precious gift from God,” Leslie Hanks of Denver, who has been vice president of Colorado Right to Life, said to one woman. “Please don’t go in and see people who kill babies, ma’am.”
The woman kept walking without glancing at Hanks.
One of the clinic escorts, Laurie Bertram Roberts, of Jackson, wore a T-shirt with the slogan, “I (Heart) My Abortion Provider.”
“No matter what side of the abortion issue you stand on, it should be important that women are not harassed, that they are not terrorized, that they are not stopped when they are trying to access safe and legal care in America, and that’s what happens to women trying to come in and out of clinics,” said Roberts, Mississippi president of the National Organization for Women. “And so we’re here to try to put our bodies between protesters and patients as they come in and out of the clinic.”
U.S. District Judge Daniel P. Jordan III ruled Monday that the state can’t close Jackson Women’s Health Organization while the clinic still has a federal lawsuit pending. No trial date has been set.
The suit, filed last summer, challenges a 2012 state law that requires each OB-GYN who does abortions at the clinic to have admitting privileges at a local hospital. The clinic acknowledges it has been unable to get the privileges.
Jordan allowed the law to take effect last July 1, but he blocked the state from closing the clinic while the clinic tried to get admitting privileges. Such privileges can be difficult to obtain, because hospitals often won’t give them to out-of-state physicians. The clinic uses out-of-state OB-GYNs, including one from Chicago.
Jordan’s ruling Monday extended his earlier injunction. It also canceled a license revocation hearing that had been set for Thursday.
Inside Jackson Women’s Health Organization on Tuesday, clinic owner Diane Derzis told The Associated Press that the judge’s ruling was a victory, but she believes women’s reproductive rights remain under attack from politicians in conservative states.
“This is just a battle in the overall war. It takes a little of the pressure off,” said Derzis, who also owns women’s health clinics in Alabama, Georgia and Virginia.
The state Department of Health gave notice to Jackson Women’s Health Organization in late January that it intended to revoke the clinic’s license. The clinic was allowed to stay open as it awaited the license revocation hearing.
Derzis — who refers to anti-abortion activists as “anti’s” — said the hearing would’ve been predictable.
“We all knew the outcome. We were in noncompliance. The state knew we were in noncompliance,” Derzis said. “But, it would’ve been a dog and pony show with anti’s and everybody trying to push their point across. So, I think it’s a lot better for everybody that that’s not going to take place.”
Meanwhile, Mississippi Right to Life leaders said Tuesday that they’re filing a complaint with the state Health Department, saying the clinic fails to provide statistics about pregnancies it terminates with abortion-inducing drugs.
“JWHO has been advertising and performing non-surgical chemical abortions for several years and has never reported any of them to the state. Thus, JWHO is in non-compliance with state law,” Barbara Whitehead, the group’s president, said in a letter to the state health officer.
Derzis said the clinic files information with the Health Department, specifying the method for each abortion it does.
Health Department spokeswoman Liz Sharlot said Tuesday that the state’s health officer, Dr. Mary Currier, had received the Mississippi Right to Life complaint. “We will certainly look into it,” Sharlot said.
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