Jackson Women’s Health Organization

Wicker weighs in on national abortion ban proposal

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Sen. Wicker the only Mississippi Republican to weigh in on national abortion ban proposal

U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker was the only member of Mississippi’s Republican congressional delegation to respond to questions this week about a proposal to impose a nationwide ban on abortions after 15 weeks.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, recently proposed the 15-week ban in the aftermath of the overturning the national right to an in June in a watershed case from Mississippi. The ruling — Dobbs v. — meant the decision on whether to allow or to restrict abortions would be for each individual state to make.

The fact that the state of Mississippi is in a real sense ground zero for the current abortion debate, thanks to the Dobbs case, makes the comments of the state’s congressional delegation relevant.

But were all silent — except for Wicker.

“The Senate Republican conference is unified in seeking as many pro-life protections as possible for all Americans, but this goal has historically shown to be most effectively achieved when legislated at the local level,” Wicker said in a statement.

Graham, of course, is touting national legislation on abortion.

It would be fair to say that some Republican candidates are backtracking on their position on abortion as the November midterm elections approach. Polls in many states, including Mississippi, indicate that the Supreme Court action overturning , which provided the national right to an abortion, might not be as popular as some conservatives thought it would be. Voters in conservative Kansas rejected a state constitutional amendment that would have made it easier for the Legislature to ban abortion.

That vote was a wake-up call for many.

In May before the Supreme Court had overturned Roe v. Wade, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said that it was “possible” that a Republican-majority Senate might vote next year on legislation to place a federal ban on abortions.

But more recently as McConnell is trying to elect enough Republicans in November to capture a Senate majority, he’s changed his tune.

Speaking on Graham’s proposal for a national 15-week ban, McConnell said, “You’ll have to ask him about it. In terms of scheduling, I think most of the members of my conference prefer that this be dealt with at the state level.”

It is important to note that under Graham’s proposal there would be a 15-week national ban but states that chose to have stricter bans, like Mississippi, would not be prevented from doing so. Mississippi bans all abortions except in the case of rape and to preserve the life of the mother. In addition, Mississippi has another law that bans abortions after six weeks except in cases of medical emergency.

Wicker pointed out Mississippi has led the way in terms of anti-abortion advocacy.

“I hope that Mississippi’s strong laws defending the unborn can serve as a model for my colleagues and help them make a difference in their respective states,” Wicker said. “We cannot allow partisan spin to undermine our determination to fight for the rights of the unborn, including at the federal level.”

It is fair to say that Wicker was a groundbreaker in terms of passing laws to restrict abortion in Mississippi. As a state senator representing Lee and Pontotoc counties in northeast Mississippi in the late 1980s and early 90s, he was one of the leaders in passing legislation enacting a 24-hour waiting period on having an abortion and imposing additional restrictions on abortion clinics.

At that time, few states were passing such legislation.

While Wicker was the only one of the five Republicans in the congressional delegation to comment on the Graham bill, all of them in the past have expressed strong anti-abortion views. Mississippi’s only Democrat in the congressional delegation – Bennie Thompson – voted for a bill that essentially would have restored the Roe v. Wade standards. That bill passed the U.S. House, but was blocked by Senate Republicans.

The issue of abortion, no doubt, will be a major issue in the November elections. Polls indicate that the issue of abortion could provide Democrats a boost. But in Mississippi abortion is not expected to be a major issue.

Wicker and the state’s other U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith are not up for re-election this year. The three House incumbents — Michael Guest of the 3rd, Trent of the 1st and Thompson of the 2nd — are all heavy favorites and it is doubtful that their position on abortion will change those odds much.

In the 4th District, Republican Mike Ezell, who defeated incumbent Steven Palazzo in the Republican primary, is also anti-abortion.

The question is will Republicans vote on a national ban on the combustible issue if they capture the House and Senate this November.

Thus far, their position has been fluid.

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Abortion pill maker drops Mississippi lawsuit

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Abortion pill maker drops Mississippi lawsuit with national implications, but fight isn’t over

An pill manufacturer voluntarily dismissed its challenging Mississippi’s restrictions on medication abortion on Thursday, but the legal question it raised is unlikely to disappear. 

GenBioPro, the manufacturer of generic mifepristone – the drug used along with misoprostol to end pregnancies up to 10 weeks of gestation – argued in its 2020 complaint that Mississippi’s restrictions on abortion medication were unconstitutional because they were much stricter than those set by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and thus preempted by federal law. The legal landscape changed dramatically with the overturning of Roe in June, but if courts accept that argument, medication abortion could remain legal even in states like Mississippi that have banned the procedure.

There is little precedent on whether states can regulate drugs more strictly than the FDA, and legal and reproductive health experts were keeping a close eye on the Mississippi case. 

GenBioPro said in a statement that it would continue the effort to expand access to medication abortion.

“Given the changed national landscape, we have decided to adjust our strategy and withdraw our existing case in Mississippi,” the statement said. “We are committed to using the law to remove unnecessary barriers for patients and providers and we look forward to making an announcement soon about our next steps.”

Lynn Fitch, whose office represented state health officers Dr. Thomas Dobbs and Dr. Daniel Edney in the lawsuit, claimed the voluntary dismissal was a “victory for life” in a statement Thursday night. 

“We are pleased to have again successfully defended Mississippi’s abortion laws,” Fitch said. “These laws represent the will of the people and the intent of the Legislature to promote life, protect the health and safety of women, and preserve the integrity of the medical profession. Our victory in Dobbs affirmed the right of the people to pass laws that defend these legitimate public interests.”

When GenBioPro filed the lawsuit in 2020, abortion was still legal but heavily regulated in Mississippi, with pills treated like any other procedure at the state’s only abortion clinic. Patients had to wait 24 hours between visits and take the first pill at the clinic, though the FDA allows people to take the pills at home.

In June, the ’s ruling in Dobbs v. ended the constitutional right to abortion and allowed Mississippi’s near-complete ban on the procedure to take effect. That upended abortion law around the country, and GenBioPro may have decided it could make a better argument in a different state or a more favorable appellate circuit. The U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, which hears cases from Mississippi, is the country’s most politically conservative

“My assumption is that the nature of the argument has changed for GenBioPro,” said Rachel Rebouché, dean of the Temple University Beasley School of Law and an expert in reproductive health law. “When it filed the lawsuit, it was taking aim at more narrow restrictions on abortion. Now it could file suit in a place that bans all abortion including medication abortion, essentially takes the first drug of a medication abortion out of those state markets. So I think in a sense that some of the legal questions have shifted because the nature of some of the laws have shifted.”

After the ruling in Dobbs, GenBioPro submitted a filing arguing that the state’s abortion ban – including pills – created a “that-much-more direct and glaring conflict” with the FDA’s approval of the drugs. It also sought to submit an amended complaint to address Mississippi’s trigger law. 

The Attorney General’s Office argued in an Aug. 4 filing that Mississippi’s trigger ban did not “impermissibly regulate the safety or efficacy” of an FDA-approved drug but rather prohibited “primary conduct—performing abortions—that the State is constitutionally entitled to prohibit.”

The brief also claimed that federal law criminalizes mailing abortion pills anywhere in the United States, citing laws that the Department of Justice has not enforced for decades

Instead of filing an amended complaint by its deadline of Aug. 18, GenBioPro dismissed its lawsuit.

Laurie Sobel, associate director for women’s health policy at KFF, a nonprofit focused on health policy research, said she anticipates GenBioPro will file a new lawsuit in a different jurisdiction, or another manufacturer could seek to make a similar case. The preemption argument could potentially be used in any state where medication abortion is tightly regulated or banned. 

“I don’t think this issue is going away,” she said. “The issue that everyone is now kind of focused on is where does regulation of medication come down to? Does the FDA get to regulate it as its sole domain? Or because it’s used for abortion, do states get to regulate it with respect to abortion?”

Rebouché said there are few precedents to predict how the arguments around preemption could play out. The closest analogy is likely state regulations of opioids: A Massachusetts ban on Zohydro, a new and controversial but FDA-approved opioid, was overturned by a federal court that found the state ban was preempted by federal law.

“It’s a novel argument in a sense that preemption has been around for a very long time – it’s part of the constitutional structure – but states really haven’t tried to ban FDA-approved drugs,” she said.

Before Mississippi’s abortion ban took effect, medication abortion accounted for well over half of the procedures performed at the state’s only abortion clinic. 

The FDA approved the pills in 2000. From then until 2017, it recorded 22 deaths among people who used mifepristone, or an average of one in 155,000, to a maternal mortality rate of 17 in 100,000 as of 2018.

Now, abortion rights supporters and opponents agree that the pills remain a major battleground in Mississippi and other states. Local advocates have vowed to help people get the pills, and international nonprofits and pharmacies have pledged to keep writing prescriptions and mailing drugs to Americans in states that ban abortion. 

Because states lack authority over the postal service, it’s unclear what they can do to stop the pills. But Mississippi lawmakers plan to try. 

Sen. Joey Fillingane, R-Sumrall, told Mississippi Today in May that the Legislature could pass a law targeting medication abortion specifically and directing law enforcement to focus on that issue.

“We know this is a new layer of law enforcement that we’re going to be expecting of you, in the agency, attorney general’s office — whomever it’ll apply to. You’re going to need more staff, you’re going to need more resources in order to enforce that new law,” Fillingane said. “It could very well be not only a directive further fleshing out the trigger law language, but also an appropriations bill that sends money to that agency and agencies that will be tasked with enforcing the law.”

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

5 reasons lawmakers might not want to restore the ballot initiative

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5 reasons lawmakers might not want to restore the ballot initiative

Mississippi is the only state in the modern era to rescind its initiative process that allowed voters to bypass the Legislature and place issues directly on the ballot.

In 2021 the ruled unconstitutional the signature-gathering process as spelled out in the Constitution to place issues on the ballot. The ruling resulted in a initiative approved by voters in November 2020 and the entire initiative process being found to be invalid.

The Legislature could not agree during the 2022 session on language to revive the initiative process.

If the Legislature did restore the initiative, there would be at least five issues that could be the subject of initiative efforts. Those five issues, all opposed by many of the state’s political leaders, might be the reason legislators are reluctant to revive the initiative.

Those five initiatives would:

  • Expand Medicaid.
  • Allow early .
  • Approve recreational marijuana.
  • Restore rights.
  • Allow people convicted of felonies to regain their voting rights at some point after they complete their sentence.

No doubt, there are other issues that most likely would be the subject of initiative efforts if the process was restored. Generally, initiatives are undertaken when legislators refuse to act on issues, such as on medical marijuana recently and on voter identification in 2011.

Medical marijuana was being rejected by the Legislature as a whole. In 2011, one chamber of the Legislature – the Democratic-controlled House – was blocking the enactment of a voter ID requirement.

Just like with medical marijuana and voter ID, the five issues cited above are currently being blocked by key legislators.

Medicaid expansion

Mississippi is one of 12 states that have not expanded Medicaid to provide health insurance for primarily the working poor. The two biggest obstacles to Medicaid expansion have been House Speaker Philip Gunn and Gov. Tate Reeves, who argue the state cannot afford to cover Mississippi’s share of the costs. Various studies have concluded that the expansion would actually be a boon to state coffers since the federal government would pay the bulk of the costs.

Various diverse groups ranging from the Mississippi Hospital Association to the Delta Council have endorsed expansion.

Early voting

Despite the rhetoric of former and many of his supporters bemoaning the evils of early voting, 46 states allow no excuse early voting and 27 permit voting by mail. And most states were allowing the various forms of early voting long before the 2020 election and the pandemic.

And truth be known, early voting has long been popular. Still, Reeves and other Mississippi politicians proudly proclaim they will block any effort to place Mississippi within the mainstream of states by enacting no excuse early voting.

Recreational marijuana

Like with early voting and Medicaid expansion, there was a recreational marijuana initiative being considered when the Mississippi Supreme Court shut down the initiative process.

And granted, it might be a long shot that Mississippi voters would approve recreational marijuana. But marijuana supporters in Arkansas garnered significantly more signatures than needed to place the issue on the November ballot.

If Arkansans approve or come close to approving recreational marijuana in November, that could be a sign that Mississippians also are willing to consider the issue.

Felony suffrage

Mississippi is one of a few states (less than 10) that do not restore voting rights to people convicted of felonies at some point after they complete their sentence. The felony suffrage provision was incorporated into the 1890 Constitution by those attempting to prevent African Americans from voting.

Voters in Florida recently voted via ballot initiative to restore voting rights to people convicted of felonies.

Abortion rights

Granted, it has long been perceived that Mississippians as a whole are staunchly anti-abortion. But after the June ruling by the in the Mississippi decision – Dobbs v. – overturning and rescinding a national right to an abortion, there has been a hue and cry by some to let Mississippians vote on the issue. After all, people who support abortion rights figure they have nothing to lose since existing Mississippi laws ban most abortions.

And there are a few reasons to give abortion rights supporters hope. For instance, in Kansas, a conservative state like Mississippi, voters recently rejected an anti-abortion proposal at the ballot box.

In addition, when Mississippians voted on abortion in 2011, they overwhelmingly defeated the “Personhood” initiative that defined life as beginning at conception. Plus, recent polling indicates that a vote on abortion in Mississippi might be close.

But unless the Legislature restores the initiative, we may never know how Mississippians feel about these issues and others.

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Doctors fear abortion laws will tie their hands as patients suffer

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‘Huge gray zone’: Mississippi doctors fear new abortion laws will tie their hands as pregnant patients suffer

Dr. Nina Ragunanthan wonders exactly how long she’s supposed to watch a miscarrying woman bleed before Mississippi law permits her to perform an

The OB/GYN in the Delta worries that the state’s new laws — banning abortion “except in the case where necessary for the preservation of the mother’s life or where the pregnancy was caused by rape” — could force doctors to wait for patients to deteriorate before providing life-saving care. She wonders: Who decides when the patient’s life is in danger, and how imminent does the danger have to be? 

“Does it have to be that she’s going to die in 30 minutes if we don’t do this?” Ragunanthan said. “That she’s at risk of dying within 24 hours? How much are we going to let her bleed? Do we have to wait until she needs a blood transfusion, start transfusing the blood, then do an abortion? … Am I going to be at legal risk for saving someone’s life if a court decides the risk to life wasn’t imminent enough to justify (an abortion)?”

These questions — and many others — haven’t been answered by state officials, law enforcement officers, hospital leadership or judges. And some OB/GYNs worry the lack of clarity will have a chilling effect on physicians who will either delay or refuse to perform abortions for fear of legal repercussions. If a doctor’s decision is challenged and they wind up on trial for performing an allegedly illegal abortion, they face up to 10 years in prison. 

Two of the workers interviewed by Mississippi Today spoke on the condition of anonymity because they fear backlash or even legal scrutiny for discussing a highly sensitive topic. 

Marc Rolph, a spokesman for the , said the hospital won’t comment on any questions related to the state’s new abortion laws and how its doctors will implement them. UMMC is home to the state’s largest group of maternal-fetal medicine subspecialists, and OB/GYNs around the state, like Ragunanthan, frequently refer patients with high-risk pregnancies there. Some UMMC doctors reached by Mississippi Today said they had been instructed not to speak to media about anything related to abortion.

None of the medical professionals interviewed by Mississippi Today said they had received any guidance from their employers as to how to interpret the new laws. 

“Have I read a sheet of paper that tells me what to do in the middle of the night when I’m on call?” one Jackson-area OB/GYN said. “No, there’s not that. You’re probably going to need approval if you’re facing a difficult decision, particularly with the exceptions in the law.” 

Mississippi Department of Health spokeswoman Liz Sharlot said the agency could not answer any questions dealing with the impact of the state’s abortion laws in the wake of the Dobbs ruling. She referred questions to the ’s office, though on Tuesday all pending litigation ended when the state’s last abortion clinic dropped its lawsuit that sought to prevent the ban from taking effect.

Questions sent to the office of Attorney General Lynn Fitch, who argued on the state’s behalf that the overturn Roe, were not answered.

The Mississippi State Board of Medical Licensure executive director Dr. Kenneth Cleveland said the board does not currently have plans to issue any statements about abortion issues in Mississippi. The board has the authority to investigate physicians and revoke their licenses for performing illegal abortions. 

Anti-abortion advocates, lawmakers and some doctors say that the exception gives physicians the discretion to determine when an abortion is necessary. They point out that most of the roughly 2,500 abortions performed annually in Mississippi prior to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Dobbs v. were elective. They say that doctors already regularly make weighty choices in high-pressure situations.

“I don’t see that these decisions have changed with this law,” said Dr. Geri Weiland, president of the Mississippi State Medical Association and a Vicksburg pediatrician. “I really don’t. I think the decisions have always been difficult.”

Dr. Terry McMillin, an OB/GYN in Greenwood, describes himself as pro-life. He doesn’t foresee the new abortion restrictions changing his practice at all. This week, he removed an ectopic pregnancy just as he always has, with no extra calls to attorneys or administrators. 

He generally refers patients with high-risk pregnancies to UMMC early on. In other complex situations, like labor beginning before viability, he counsels patients about what to expect and monitors them carefully for signs of danger. Those situations, and others where an abortion could be necessary to save the pregnant person’s life, are rare, he said.

“A lot of times I’m gonna put it in the hands of the creator, because I believe there is a God, and I believe in the providence of God, that everything happens for a reason and that he’s in control of it all, so I think we should give life a chance, if we can,” he said. 

Richard Roberson, vice president of state policy at the Mississippi Hospital Association, said the organization had been fielding questions from members about compliance with the new laws, but that decisions will largely be made by medical staff on a case-by-case basis. Clarification from lawmakers or through the courts would be helpful, he said. 

“It’s hard to issue specific guidance on a very non-specific law,” he said, referring to what hospital administrators might be able to provide their staff at this point. 

Even so, he doesn’t expect doctors or patients to be at risk of legal or medical consequences: Physicians have always sought to protect maternal and fetal health in complicated situations, and he doesn’t see that changing. 

But some doctors aren’t reassured. 

The Jackson-area OB/GYN said that life-threatening conditions during pregnancy often occur on a spectrum and can develop over time; they’re not always an obvious catastrophe like an ectopic pregnancy that could rupture and cause internal bleeding. For example, a patient with serious pre-existing heart problems will likely be stable early in a pregnancy but have a high risk of developing life-threatening symptoms as the pregnancy progresses. 

Before, the doctor routinely presented the option of early termination. Now, the OB/GYN said, “that discussion has been taken out of our hands as clinicians.”

“There’s a huge gray zone which leaves people at risk and providers possibly confused,” she said.

Doctors also expect that even though the law permits abortions in cases of rape, no one in the state will be willing to do the procedure under those circumstances, fearing potential prison time or costly lawsuits. 

“I don’t think people in Mississippi can have comfort around, ‘Oh, if I’m raped, I will have access,’” the Jackson-area OB/GYN said. “You probably won’t. You’ll have to find someone to do it that includes a hospital with the whole team there supporting that, and that’s much more difficult.”

The people who wrote the laws that now dictate decisions in every hospital around the state don’t seem to understand pregnancy, doctors told Mississippi Today.

“The situation is far too complex for a statute,” said one women’s health care provider. “It needs to be between the doctor and the patient.”

The Jackson Women’s Health Organization was for years the only facility in the state that provided elective abortions. Before the Supreme Court overturned in June, Mississippi doctors generally sent patients there or to clinics in other states for non-emergency procedures. 

In emergencies, however, doctors at hospitals around the state have terminated pregnancies to protect their patients. Though the law still technically permits that, the language “in the case where necessary for the preservation of the mother’s life” isn’t a clear medical standard. 

Mississippi OB/GYNs interviewed by Mississippi Today listed a range of scenarios in which a patient’s life is clearly at risk, but maybe not enough risk to pass muster under the law.

Up to about 30% of all pregnancies end in miscarriage, and some people experience heavy bleeding. One potential treatment is a dilation & curettage (D&C) to remove the tissue from the uterus. Ragunanthan said that if the fetus still has cardiac activity, the procedure is an abortion, though there’s no chance of a live birth. Facing legal uncertainty, Ragunanthan worries doctors may stand by as the patient bleeds and potentially requires a blood transfusion. 

In other states, miscarrying people have already reported being denied care and sent home to wait.

“I work in a rural hospital where – it’s not like a major trauma center, we don’t have a huge blood bank, and so things like that scare me,” Ragunanthan said. 

She described another scenario: If a woman’s water breaks before viability, which occurs around 24 weeks of pregnancy, the fetus has a very low chance of survival because its lungs cannot develop without amniotic fluid. The woman then has a high risk of infection, but the fetus may still have cardiac activity. 

As part of the ongoing legal battle over Louisiana’s trigger ban, a New Orleans doctor filed an affidavit describing how after a patient’s water broke at 16 weeks, the doctor planned to perform a dilation and evacuation (D&E) to end the nonviable pregnancy. Then her hospital’s lawyers told her that wasn’t legal. 

Louisiana’s ban – which had briefly gone into effect before a judge issued a temporary restraining order while the court challenge plays out – includes an exemption for “medically futile” pregnancies that could apply in such cases (though the state health department has not issued a list explaining what situations that includes). Mississippi’s law has no such exemption.

“What are you supposed to do?” Ragunanthan said. “Are you supposed to wait until she becomes infected? … Do you have to wait until it gets into the bloodstream?”

For people with pulmonary hypertension, becoming pregnant carries a roughly 30 to 56% risk of death. The women’s health care provider who spoke to Mississippi Today said she wasn’t sure what the law would permit in such a case.

“It feels like to me, the laws are written for – ‘Well, there’s that chance that everything will be OK,’” she said. “A lot of times it’s just not.”

The Jackson-area OB/GYN said she thinks the onus to explain how to apply the new laws at the bedside falls on lawmakers, regulators and law enforcement. 

“I need their help on what they will choose to prosecute and what they won’t,” she said

So far, none of them have offered any guidance, though two Mississippi DAs have said they won’t prosecute people for abortions.

Sen. Joey Fillingane, R-Sumrall, principal author of the trigger ban, said he thinks doctors will do what they need to do to save a patient’s life. If a doctor’s decision is called into question and criminally investigated, he said he expects they would have documentation to show they had acted in accordance with the law. 

“I mean, I didn’t go to med school, so I’m not going to sit here and armchair quarterback what a bunch of OB/GYNs will be deciding, whether this specific case is sufficient to qualify,” he said. “That’s why we meet every session. We can certainly revisit that law and add more flesh to the bone.”

Weiland, the head of the state medical association, said she doesn’t expect to see doctors being investigated and prosecuted for making good-faith decisions. 

“Mississippians are very fair people,” she said. “I don’t see the state supporting doctors being prosecuted for doing what we’ve been doing, taking care of moms and complications of pregnancies forever. That’s what we do … Maybe I’m being too optimistic about it. But I personally don’t see that being something that’s supported by this law.”

Mississippi Today community health editor Kate Royals contributed to this story.

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Abortion clinic drops its lawsuit, leaving legality of abortion in Mississippi in limbo

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Abortion clinic drops its lawsuit, leaving legality of abortion in Mississippi in limbo

Attorneys for announced Tuesday it was dropping its legal efforts to continue to perform abortions in Mississippi.

Rob McDuff, an attorney for the who represented the clinic, said the failure of the state Supreme Court to hear the case “on an emergency basis” led to the decision for Jackson Women’s Health Organization to drop the and to relocate to another state where abortions are not banned.

The clinic was the last provider in the state.

The clinic had filed an emergency petition with the state Supreme Court asking the justices to prevent from going into effect state laws banning most abortions in Mississippi. The clinic pointed out that in 1998, the state Supreme Court had ruled that abortion was a right protected by the Mississippi Constitution. That ruling, the clinic argued, would supersede the state laws passed in later years to ban abortions.

READ MORE: Mississippi, where abortion is technically both legal and illegal at the same time

But in a statement Tuesday, the Mississippi Center of Justice said that because of the Supreme Court’s refusal to hear the abortion clinic appeals in an expedited matter, the lawsuit was being dropped. Diane Derzis, the owner of the clinic, recently sold the building in Jackson’s Fondren neighborhood where the clinic, known as the Pink House, was located. She is continuing with plans to open a clinic in New Mexico.

“In recent years, the Mississippi Center for Justice, the Center for Reproductive Rights, and the Paul Weiss law firm have filed several lawsuits to keep the clinic’s doors open, and to preserve and expand access to abortion in Mississippi,” said Vangela Wade, chief executive officer for the Mississippi Center for Justice. “We will continue to work for the day that right is restored and that every Mississippian has the resources to make their own reproductive and family planning decisions.”

With the decision to drop the lawsuit, left unresolved is the 1998 state Supreme Court decision in that recognized the right to abortion as part of the Mississippi Constitution. After that decision was issued, the state Legislature in 2007 passed a law saying most abortions would be banned in Mississippi if the ever stripped away the right to an abortion as part of the federal Constitution. And in 2019 the state Legislature passed a ban on all abortions after six weeks except in cases of medical emergencies.

State officials said those laws took effect after the U.S. Supreme Court in late June overturned Roe v. Wade, which granted the right to an abortion, in a case involving Jackson Women’s Health Organization.

But Jackson Women’s Health Organization filed a lawsuit to block those laws from taking effect based on the 1998 state Supreme Court ruling. The lawsuit argued that the Supreme Court ruling, which was based on the Constitution, trumped state law. But Chancellor Debbra Halford of Franklin County rejected the clinic’s arguments. The clinic appealed that ruling to the Supreme Court, but on Tuesday decided to drop the appeal.

While that appeal was pending before the Supreme Court, doctors at the clinic stopped performing abortions opting not to risk the punishment doled out in state law – a possible prison sentence and a loss of medical license – even though in the lawsuit they argued they still had the right to perform abortions based on the 1998 state Supreme Court ruling.

Mississippi Today could not get a definitive answer from the Supreme Court on whether it could take up the lawsuit even though it was dropped and reconsider the 1998 ruling granting a constitutional right to an abortion.

Theoretically, a doctor could perform abortions in the state and argue in court he or she had the right based on the 1998 Supreme Court ruling. But the doctor would be risking his or her livelihood based on how the court ruled on the issue of the Constitution versus state law.

In a statement, McDuff said, “Diane’s work is not done, and we applaud her commitment to continuing to ensure people can exercise their right to abortion. As she has stated, she is working to open a clinic in Las Cruces, New Mexico, where she can provide abortion care without fear of being put in prison for 10 years. We thank Diane; the clinic’s executive director, Shannon Brewer; and its medical director, Dr. Carr-Ellis; all of the clinic’s employees; and the Pink House Defenders, for the heroic work they have done so Mississippians could make their own decisions about pregnancy and childbirth.”

Editor’s note: Vangela M. Wade is a member of Mississippi Today’s board of directors.

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Mississippi abortion: technically legal and illegal

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Mississippi, where abortion is technically both legal and illegal at the same time

Despite the current ban imposed by state law, a brave doctor could theoretically perform the medical procedure and argue in court that she was acting based on what the said was legal.

Of course, a doctor challenging the law might be labeled as foolish instead of brave since the physician would run the risk of losing her medical license and face the specter of being sentenced to prison under conditions of the state law banning abortion. No telling how judges in Mississippi might rule on the issue.

But the fact remains that Mississippi is in this strange place where abortions no longer are being performed because of state law yet there is a Supreme Court decision saying the Mississippi Constitution provides abortion rights. And a ninth grade civics student learns that the constitution supersedes state laws.

Based on that 1998 Supreme Court ruling in , — what had been the state’s only abortion clinic — recently filed a asking that the state abortion ban law be blocked. Many assumed that the ultimate outcome of the lawsuit would be that a lower court would grant, perhaps reluctantly, the motion to postpone the ban and then the state would appeal to the Mississippi Supreme Court, which would issue a ruling reversing the 1998 decision that said there was a constitutional right to an abortion.

But Chancellor Debbra Halford of Franklin County, appointed by state Supreme Court Justice Michael Randolph to hear the case, took a different path. She refused to block the abortion ban.

Halford pointed out that the had reversed , which provided the federal constitutional right to an abortion. She reasoned that the 1998 state state Supreme Court ruling was made because the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled in Roe v. Wade that abortion was legal based on rights under the U.S. Constitution. 

But Halford could not cite where the Mississippi Supreme Court said in the 1998 ruling that abortion was a right under the Mississippi Constitution contingent on Roe v. Wade. The state Supreme Court majority opinion said in 1998 abortion was a right under the Mississippi Constitution, separate and apart from Roe.

Further, Halford, proving she was a soothsayer as well as a legal scholar, said that when the case got back before the state Supreme Court, it would reverse the 1998 ruling. She most likely is correct, and we’ll find out soon because the clinic appealed her ruling to the state Supreme Court.

But what if the abortion rights supporters stopped their lawsuit after the Halford decision? The state would have been left in the aforementioned strange place where there was a law banning abortion even though there was a constitutional right to an abortion as stated in the 1998 Mississippi Supreme Court ruling. Halford’s ruling did not overturn that 1998 Supreme Court ruling.

It could be argued that Jackson Women’s Health Organization is doing the state a favor by appealing the Halford decision, giving the Supreme Court the opportunity to reverse the 1998 decision or proclaim unequivocally the state constitution provides abortion rights.

In 1996, then-U.S. Judge William Barbour of the Southern District of Mississippi prevented some restrictions placed on abortion clinics by the state from taking effect.

Barbour of Yazoo City, a relative of former Gov. Haley Barbour, said at the time he was personally opposed to abortion and the decision he was making pained him, but it was the only decision he could make since Roe v. Wade was the law of the land.

Late last month, of course, the U.S. Supreme Court in a landmark decision reversed Roe v. Wade, meaning abortion rights no longer are guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution. That ruling led to the current abortion ban in Mississippi.

But while Roe was the law, scores of federal judges, even those who opposed abortion like William Barbour, issued rulings protecting abortion rights because, they said, they did not have the authority to overrule the U.S. Supreme Court.

Just like Roe v. Wade was the governing authority for Barbour and all those lower court federal judges, Pro-Choice was and is the precedent for all the lower court state judges in Mississippi.

Just as the U.S. Supreme Court can and did overturn Roe v. Wade, the Mississippi Supreme Court can and most likely will overturn Pro-Choice Mississippi v. Fordice.

But William Barbour pointed out in 1996 that is a decision for the Supreme Court, not for the lower courts.

READ MORE: FAQ — Abortion in Mississippi post-Roe v. Wade

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Supreme Court rejects plea for quick ruling on effort to stop abortion ban

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Supreme Court rejects plea for quick ruling on effort to stop abortion ban

A three-judge panel of the state Supreme Court has rejected the petition of to allow the resumption of abortions as early as this week.

The Supreme Court justices have said that instead they will wait for arguments from Lynn Fitch’s office to be submitted before ruling on the petition of the supporters. The three-justice panel of James Kitchens, Dawn Beam and Kenneth Griffis has given Fitch’s office until July 25 to respond to a petition requesting that the Supreme Court rescind the abortion ban.

The abortion ban was put in place after Fitch’s office successfully argued before the for the reversal of , a decades-old decision that provided a national right to an abortion.

The abortion ban went into effect in Mississippi on Thursday. At the time the ban went into effect, Jackson Women’s Health Organization was the only abortion provider in the state. The clinic had filed a asking that the ban been postponed based on a 1998 state Supreme Court ruling saying that there was a right to an abortion in Mississippi’s constitution separate from the right granted under the U.S. Constitution in Roe v. Wade.

Despite the state Supreme Court saying the right to an abortion existed in the Mississippi Constitution, Chancery Judge Debbra Halford of Franklin County refused to stop the ban from taking effect.

Now the clinic is asking the state Supreme Court to rule on the issue and is requesting a quick decision.

In a motion, attorneys for the clinic said, “By July 25, Mississippians will have been without abortion access for over two weeks. They will have been denied their rights under the Mississippi Constitution to privacy and bodily autonomy, as they are compelled by the state to endure the risks of pregnancy and bear children against their will. The deprivation of constitutional rights, and the harms of forced pregnancy and childbirth, are substantial and irreversible. Absent relief from this Court, the harm will continue.”

The three-judge panel rejected that argument, opting instead to wait for arguments from the AG, due July 25.

The abortion ban is in effect in Mississippi because of a trigger law passed in 2007 that went into effect if Roe v. Wade was overturned. Attorneys for the abortion clinic say the 1998 state Supreme Court ruling recognizing a Mississippi constitutional right to an abortion supersedes the trigger law and another Mississippi law banning abortions after six weeks.

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Mississippi abortion ban takes effect, last clinic closes Wednesday

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rssfeeds.clarionledger.com – Mississippi Clarion Ledger – 2022-07-06 17:14:34

On Wednesday evening, after some of the last patients to receive a legal in Mississippi had left Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the last abortion clinic in the state closed its doors.

The next day, abortion would become illegal in Mississippi, with few exceptions.

Ten days after Lynn Fitch certified that the had overturned ,…

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‘There will be women who will die:’ Protesters, supporters look to the future on last day of legal abortion in Mississippi

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‘There will be women who will die:’ Protesters, supporters look to the future on last day of legal abortion in Mississippi

When the last patient went inside Mississippi’s only clinic on the final day of legal abortion in the state, escort Derenda Hancock packed up stray bottles of Coca-Cola and water next to the driveway she has guarded for nine years. Wearing aviator sunglasses that hid her eyes, she leaned silently against the pink stucco wall for a moment. Then she walked away.  

The provided abortions for the last time on Wednesday afternoon. Starting Thursday, Mississippi will permit abortions only in cases where the pregnancy threatens the mother’s life — a medically imprecise standard that may force doctors to wait for patients to deteriorate before providing care — or when the pregnant person reported a rape to law enforcement.

Abortion will be more restricted than at any point in state history except for about 15 years in the mid-20th century.

The clinic, which also offers contraceptives and other services, will likely close altogether. Director Shannon Brewer and a few staff members plan to move to New Mexico to open Pink House West.

The Pink House spent much of its existence fighting for its survival against laws and regulations designed to make it as difficult and complicated as possible to provide abortions in Mississippi. In the end, the facility at the heart of the case that overturned Roe was able to stay open longer than many others in the region of the country most hostile to abortion rights.

Since Texas banned almost all abortions last September, the clinic parking lot had regularly been crowded with Louisiana and Texas license plates. And for the last 10 days, it became an unlikely island of abortion access when other southeastern states halted the procedure almost immediately after the Supreme Court ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.

When Brewer arrived at work around 8:15 a.m. on Wednesday, the clinic escorts gathered in the parking lot. They applauded as she walked inside.

“That’s right, the hero of our age,” said John Busby, an anti-abortion protester.

“Turn to Jesus, Shannon! Repent,” shouted another frequent protester, Gabriel Olivier, who remained sitting in his camp chair across the street from the parking lot.

For the last four years, Busby has spent at least three days a week protesting at the Pink House. But he’s not satisfied with its closure.

He plans to travel to other states where abortion is still permitted, to preach and protest outside clinics there. And he wants to see Mississippi pass a “full abolishment” of abortion—no exceptions for rape or to protect the life of a pregnant person.

Cases where a pregnancy endangers the pregnant person’s life are “almost nonexistent,” he said. Between 1 and 2% of pregnancies – at least 350 pregnancies in Mississippi every year – implant outside the uterus and cannot be carried to term. They are always fatal for the fetus and unless treated can cause life-threatening bleeding. Busby doesn’t think abortion should be allowed in those cases. 

“The baby either can’t be sustained because of an ectopic pregnancy, or it’s gonna, by a miracle of God, it’s gonna full term…What we do as a human race, we want to say, we know better than what God knows.”

As the first patients arrived before 10 a.m., Dr. Cheryl Hamlin, the Boston-based OB-GYN working her final three-day shift at the clinic, came outside to speak to reporters. Anti-abortion protesters chanted through megaphones while supporters of the clinic blew kazoos.

When Hamlin started working in Mississippi five years ago, inspired to do something after the election of , she never expected she’d be at the clinic on its last day providing abortions.

“There will be women who will die because their OB/GYN or family doctor or whatever is afraid to treat them because they’re afraid of the implications,” she said. “‘It’s not quite life threatening yet. This may be only 50% life threatening. Or 75. Is that enough? Does it have to be 100%?’” 

Sonnie Bane arrived around 9:30 Wednesday morning. She came to sit outside the clinic because the abortion she got there in late 2016 saved her life, she said. She was in an abusive relationship, and while “it wasn’t the easiest decision for me to make,” she’s never regretted it.

“I wouldn’t be the same person and I love who I am today,” she said.

Since the Court’s ruling in Dobbs, she’s spent most days sitting outside the clinic with a group. They’ve mostly gotten supportive honks from passers-by.

“I want someone to drive by that needs to see it,” she said.

Even with the clinic open in Mississippi, access was limited. The mandatory 24-hour waiting period between visits could force people to miss two days of work, especially if they lived far from Jackson. The state already had one of the lowest abortion rates in the country, and many Mississippians traveled out of state for abortions. Reproductive rights advocates say some people believed abortion was illegal already.

Now, people will have to travel hundreds of miles to get an abortion or order pills online—a practice which is prohibited by Mississippi law but which will likely be difficult for law enforcement to stop.

Advocates expect the closest clinic to Jackson will be in Carbondale, Ill., a more than six-hour drive away.

The abortion ban will disproportionately affect Black women in Mississippi, who get about three-quarters of all abortions in the state. Black women also face much greater risks during pregnancy: They are about three times likelier than white women in the state to die of a pregnancy-related complication. 

Though southeastern abortion funds have vowed to keep helping patients pay for the procedure and travel expenses, they face legal uncertainty. The Yellowhammer Fund in neighboring Alabama has paused financial assistance for abortion while its lawyers assess whether the organization and patients could incur legal risks, deputy director Kelsea McLain said in an interview with Mississippi Today.

About 12 hours after the Court issued its ruling in Dobbs, she had to call a patient whose appointment was the next day to tell them Yellowhammer couldn’t help pay for the procedure.

“It’s become so accustomed to them that they run into barriers and obstacles that running into another one is not even that big a deal,” she said. “It’s expected. I don’t think it would have made it better, for people to lash out, curse me — but it just broke my heart even more that these people are depending on us. We were revoking that support, and they just understood.”

The Atlanta-based organization ARC-Southeast, which supports people across the South, including Mississippi, has not paused funding.

During the final days before Mississippi’s trigger ban took effect, the clinic escorts were exhausted. Hancock had started showing up at 4:30 a.m. to make sure she got there before the protesters.

“This last year has felt like the other eight put together,” she said.

On Tuesday morning, she sat in a green camp chair next to the driveway, with a waist-high orange and white traffic cone next to her. Olivier, who had started referring to himself as her “media partner” came over.

“What would we be if there was no man here?” escort Kim Gibson said. “At peace.”

“Chaos,” Olivier retorted. “Men run the world. Even just the small amount of authority you’ve been given, look how terrible things have gotten.”

Coleman Boyd, such a frequent presence outside the Pink House that the security guards working there since the ruling have nicknamed him “Ringleader,” came over and started jostling the cone. He sang “Celebration” by Kool & the Gang.

The three security guards who have spent 10 hours a day outside the clinic since June 24 had dubbed the experience “interesting.” One of the anti-abortion protesters repeatedly referred to his “colored” wife over the loudspeaker, and another had told one of the guards, a Black man, that he hadn’t had a father in his life.

“It’s almost like babysitting little children,” said Keswic Farrar. “That’s both sides included. It’s amazing how much they know about each other. They spend so much time hating each other. … apparently everyone’s opinion is the right one.”

“How you gonna insult someone?” said another security guard, who wanted to be identified as KJ. “If your goal is to argue facts and things like that, you can’t resort to petty insults and then say, ‘I’m doing this ‘cause God loves you.’ That ain’t how that works.”

Before 3 p.m. on Wednesday, Gibson looked across the street from the parking lot and recognized 79-year-old Dr. Beverly McMillan. In 1975, McMillan started working at the state’s first freestanding abortion clinic.

“I hope you’re happy for what you have wrought here,” Gibson called to her. “Women dying and babies in trash cans.”

McMillan said that she grew up Catholic but was secular when she moved to Jackson. A year after she started working at the abortion clinic, she encountered Christ and returned to reading the Bible. Then, after performing an abortion, she saw a “perfectly formed little biceps.” It reminded her of her youngest son, a 4-year-old who liked to show off his arm muscle.

“I got this sadness,” she said. “I couldn’t do abortions any more.”

By 1980, she had gotten involved in a local pro-life organization. She has regularly prayed the rosary outside the Pink House since it opened. She understood why Gibson had shouted at her, she said, and she would pray for her, too.

Another demonstrator came over to talk.

“Are you the lady that Kim was hollering at earlier?” he asked. Yes, McMillan said. 

“It’s a glorious day,” he said. “I just feel like, go ahead and yell all you want, you know, because it’s a great day.”

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Mississippi abortion: DAs won’t prosecute for seeking

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Two Mississippi district attorneys say they will not prosecute people who provide or seek abortions

Following the decision to overturn a federal right to , two Mississippi district attorneys say they will not prosecute those who seek, provide or help someone obtain an abortion. 

District Attorney Jody Owens and District Attorney Shameca Collins, who represents the sixth district for Adams, Amite, Franklin and Wilkinson counties, signed a joint statement published by Fair and Just Prosecutions.  

They join 90 district attorneys and state attorneys general from 31 states who pledged to use discretion not to criminalize personal healthcare decisions. With the overturn of , individual states can decide how to legislate abortion. 

“All members of our communities are our clients – they elected us to represent them and we are bound to fight for them as we carry out our obligation to pursue justice,” prosecutors said in the June 24 statement. “Our legislatures may decide to criminalize personal healthcare decisions, but we remain obligated to prosecute only those cases that serve the interests of justice and the people.”

Prosecutors said enforcing abortions bans goes against obligations and interests they are sworn to uphold. They also said it will wear down trust in the legal system, take resources away from prosecuting other crimes, retraumatize victims of sexual violence and hinder prosecutors’ ability to hold people accountable for sexual violence. 

Collins, elected in 2019 and whose office is in Natchez, did not respond to a request for comment. Owens, also elected in 2019 and whose office is in Jackson, was not available for comment. 

Other district attorneys who signed the joint statement represent major cities in the South including Atlanta, Austin, Birmingham, Dallas, Durham, Nashville, New Orleans and San Antonio. 

Mississippi is one of 26 states that have or are poised to ban or restrict abortion in most circumstances following the Supreme Court decision, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive health research and policy organization. Most of those states are in the South. 

The state is also one of 13 with trigger laws that can go into effect now that Roe v. Wade has been overturned, according to the Guttmacher Institute. Under those laws, people who seek abortions or those who perform them can face felony charges and prison time. 

In Mississippi, a 2007 trigger law will outlaw abortion with two exceptions: when the mother’s life is in danger or a rape has been reported to law enforcement. 

Anyone who performs an abortion here, other than the pregnant person, can face between one and 10 years in prison, according to state code. 

Mississippi’s trigger law is set to take effect this week after Lynn Fitch certified the law June 27. 

A day after the law certification, the – Mississippi’s only abortion clinic and the subject of the case that resulted in the Roe decision – filed a lawsuit that argued the trigger law is invalid because of a 1998 state Supreme Court decision said abortion is protected under the state constitution. 

After a Tuesday hearing, Judge Debbra Halford denied the clinic’s request to block Mississippi’s trigger ban from going into effect. 

Not all of the prosecutors agree about abortion on a personal or moral level, but they said in the joint statement they stand together because they have a responsibility not to use the criminal legal system against people for their medical decisions. 

“Criminalizing abortion will not end abortion; it will simply end safe abortions, forcing the most vulnerable among us — as well as medical providers — to make impossible decisions,” the prosecutors said.  

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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