Mississippi sole abortion clinic to sue if can't comply

By Laura Tillman/The Associated Press

JACKSON — The owner of Mississippi’s sole abortion clinic says she will sue the state if her business can’t comply with a regulation that will soon become law.

The bill is headed to the governor’s desk would require doctors working at abortion clinics to be OB-GYN certified and have admitting privileges to a local hospital. The clinic’s owner Diane Derzis told The Associated Press that all of its physicians are OB-GYN’s, but only one has admitting privileges.

Derzis said most hospitals will not grant the privileges to out-of-state physicians. And she said her clinic doctors live out of state to protect their safety. Many have been stalked and threatened, she said.

The clinic would do everything possible to comply with the bill, but more than one physician is needed in order to stay open, she said. In the event she does sue, Derzis said a judge could issue a temporary injunction on the law that would allow her clinic to stay open until the lawsuit is resolved.

The Senate on Thursday sent House Bill 1390 to Gov. Phil Bryant, who said he would sign it.

During a Wednesday debate, Sen. Kenny Wayne Jones, D-Canton, asked Senate Public Health Committee Chairman Dean Kirby, R-Pearl, whether putting more regulations on the clinic could cause it to close, and whether that could then force women to try to perform their own abortions.

“That’s what we’re trying to stop here, the coat-hanger abortions,” Kirby said at the time. “The purpose of this bill is to stop back-room abortions.”

Kirby said Thursday he was not referring to the abortion clinic when he used the phrases “coat-hanger” and “back-room abortions,” and that he instead hoped the bill would ensure the safety of abortions by requiring that physicians meet the proposed certifications. He said he was not aware when he presented the bill that the doctors were already OB-GYN certified but argued the bill would ensure that that they always would be.

Derzis said Kirby’s comments were uninformed, and that the bill would not make abortion any safer. She said that the clinic already has a transfer agreement with a local hospital, so patients who are in need of medical intervention are automatically admitted. In the event the clinic does close, Derzis said it will be more likely for women to resort to unsafe means, particularly poor women who cannot afford to travel out of state to visit an abortion clinic.

Apart from Jackson, clinics close to Mississippi include those in Tuscaloosa, Ala.; Memphis, Tenn.; Mobile, Ala.; and New Orleans.

Terri Herring of Madison, national director of Pro Life America Network, said several other states have laws requiring abortion providers to have hospital admitting privileges.

“This is one of the laws that we don’t anticipate them winning in a court challenge,” Herring said. “I think there is truly reason for us to want to know who is in the abortion business in Mississippi. Requiring admitting privileges allows our hospitals to vet these doctors, see what their credentials are.”

Bryant opposes abortion rights and supported the “Personhood Amendment” that was defeated by Mississippi voters last year.

“It is critically important, I think, to make sure we’ve got a certified physician there for that very complicated procedure, and if a complication does occur, that they have admission privileges or rights to a local hospital,” Bryant told The Associated Press on Tuesday. “So, I’m very excited about that. Look forward to signing it.”

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Associated Press Writer Emily Wagster Pettus contributed to this report.