Mississippi was on the verge of being the only state with no abortion clinics on July 1 when a federal judge stepped in and temporarily blocked a state law apparently targeting the one Mississippi facility where abortions are performed. The Jackson Women's Health Organization will be allowed to stay open, at least until July 11. But after that, it's anyone's guess what Judge Daniel P. Jordan will decide. Is Mississippi about to make any woman who wants an abortion drive 200 miles to a different state, or to an unsafe back-alley type abortionist? Is this a legal way to end abortion in the Magnolia State? Here, a guide to the controversial Mississippi law:
What does the law do?
In April, Gov. Phil Bryant (R) signed a piece of legislation requiring all doctors who perform abortions in the state to be board-certified OB-GYNs as well as mandating that they have privileges to admit patients to local hospitals. Diane Derzis, president of the Jackson Women's Health Organization, says one of the clinic's three board-certified OB-GYNs has hospital privileges, while the other two have applied at seven nearby hospitals, but have yet to hear back. "We've been trying to jump through this hoop," she tells NPR. "We've just not had enough time."
Does this really equal outlawing abortion in Mississippi?
It doesn't, technically, but in practice it raises high enough barriers to effectively stop the one abortion provider in the state. And state officials aren't exactly hiding the fact that shuttering the clinic was their intention. When signing the bill, Bryant said he wants Mississippi "abortion-free," and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves (R) said, "We have an opportunity today with the signing of this bill to end abortion in Mississippi" — a point he repeats on his official website. State Rep. Sam Mims (R), one of the sponsors of the law, acknowledges that if the law "causes this abortion facility to close, then I believe it is a good thing for Mississippi."
Why did Judge Jordan block it?
"The debate over abortion continues," he writes in his opinion, but "there exists legal precedent the court must follow." Roe v. Wade and subsequent Supreme Court rulings mandate a legal right to abortion, and "plaintiffs have offered evidence — including quotes from significant legislative and executive officers — that the act's purpose is to eliminate abortions in Mississippi. They likewise submitted evidence that no safety or health concerns motivated its passage. This evidence has not yet been rebutted."
What happens next?
Jordan will convene a hearing on the case on July 11. He could decide to extend the injunction or to end it, effectively allowing Mississippi to force its last abortion clinic to close. That still wouldn't end abortion in Mississippi, says Derzis: "There is no question about it, some women are going to do whatever it takes," she said. "This doesn't affect women with money so much, it is the women who are poor, with no resources that will suffer." If Jordan blocks the law, it wouldn't be the first time the courts have stepped in to halt abortion in Mississippi — the most recent case was in 2004, when a judge threw out a state law that banned virtually all abortions after the first trimester.
What are people on each side of the abortion debate saying?
For the anti-abortion side, says Tim Stanley in an opinion piece in Britain's The Telegraph, this is just one more sign we're winning. Public opinion is shifting our way, and the smart "sub-radar skirmishes" anti-abortion activists are waging at the state level have made abortions unavailable in 87 percent of U.S. counties and 97 percent of rural communities. As the Mississippi case shows, "in many parts of America, all that now keeps the abortion industry afloat is the intervention of the courts." This law clearly ups the ante in the abortion fight, says Anna Breslaw at Jezebel. This time "Bryant and Co." didn't even try a half-hearted distraction "to cover up the fact that this is all about a conservative vendetta against women's choices — you know, when they're like 'this is about helping the women' or 'Look, what's that over there!'" Sadly, the bottom line is, "try not to have a vagina in Mississippi."