By Cheryl Sullenger
New Orleans, LA – A three member panel of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments yesterday concerning the constitutionality of Mississippi’s law that requires abortionists to maintain hospital privileges within 30 miles of their abortion clinic.
If allowed to be enforced, the law could close the Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the only abortion clinic in the State of Mississippi.
“This case is really about whether the courts will compel the State of Mississippi to allow abortion clinics to continue subjecting women to below standard care. Pregnant women are currently being treated as second-class citizens and are being denied the same high standard of care that everyone else expects. However, the Jackson Women’s Health Organization can’t and won’t raise their standards for the safety of their patients. That says a lot about their agenda, which places abortion profits above the lives of women,” said Troy Newman, President of Operation Rescue.
The hospital privilege rule was passed after Newman suggested the law to a Mississippi pro-life lobbying group during the 2012 March for Life events in Washington, DC. Since then, hospital privilege requirements have been enacted in several states and are being considered in others.
Last April, a different three-member panel of the Fifth Circuit found that a nearly similar provision in Texas’ HB2 abortion law created no “undue burden” on women seeking abortion and allowed the state to enforce it. That has resulted in the closure of 16 Texas abortion clinics.
However, the three-member panel that heard yesterday’s arguments indicated that closing Mississippi’s last abortion clinic might be more difficult due to concerns that crossing state lines for abortions might create a different set of legal issues.
“Seems to me you’ve got a steep hill to climb,” noted Judge E. Grady Jolly at the beginning of the proceedings.
Paul Eldridge Barnes, who argued for the State of Mississippi, noted that already thousands of Mississippi women cross state lines every year for abortions in neighboring states. Julie Rickelman of the Center for Reproductive Rights indicated that neighboring states were also attempting to pass hospital privilege requirements, which could close abortion clinics that are close to Mississippi.
“It is troubling that some would put keeping an abortion business open ahead of the safety of women,” said Newman. “Closing a dangerous clinic like the Jackson Women’s Health Organization would actually protect women and save lives.”
Contrary to Rickelman’s claim that the JWHO employees “competent physicians,” Operation Rescue has documentation that says otherwise.
One of the primary abortionists employed by JWHO owner Diane Derzis is Bruce Elliot Norman. Norman was caught by pro-life activists operating an illegal abortion business with Derzis in Birmingham, Alabama, which was ordered to halt operations by a judge in August, 2013.
Elliot was also responsible for sending three abortion patients to the hospital on the same day in January, 2012, that resulted in complaints to the Alabama Department of Public Health by pro-life groups, including Operation Rescue, CEC for Life, and Life Legal Defense Foundation. Those complaints prompted an inspection of Derzis and Norman’s abortion facility where 76 pages of serious violations were discovered.
Derzis’ and Norman’s shoddy abortion practices are replicated in Jackson, Mississippi, where Operation Rescue has documented a long history of incompetent abortionists and abortion-related injuries, including one last August.
Norman and other abortionists hired by Derzis do not live in Mississippi. Currently, they travel to Mississippi to do abortions, then leave the state. Experts have testified that this has practice leaves women to fend for themselves when complications arise and can delay emergency care in the event of a life-threatening complication.
“We are praying that the court will see that protecting women from dangerous practices is more important than ensuring that a substandard and dangerous abortion clinic remains open,” said Newman.
A ruling from the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals is expected in the near future.