The new state laws that require admitting privileges at local hospitals are a double blessing for the pro-life community. First, they bring much-needed national attention to the substandard conditions of clinics where abortions happen. Second, they have resulted in the closure of dozens of clinics around the country that either could not or would not raise their standard of care.
Now the nation turns to Mississippi, where the conservative U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals will get to decide the fate of its new law. This court already upheld a Texas admitting-privileges law that closed virtually half the abortion clinics in that state.
The Mississippi is being challenged by Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the last remaining abortion clinic in the state. The clinic was not successful in acquiring the admitting privileges required by the statute. In 2012, seven local hospitals rejected its applications on various grounds. The University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson said they only accepted patients from physicians who are employed faculty at the teaching hospital. Officials at Baptist Medical Center, understandably, refused to send JWHO an application for admitting privileges. Five other hospitals owned by Naples, Fla.-based Health Management Associates Inc. cited potential for “internal and external disruption of the hospital’s function and business within this community” as reason for rejecting JWHO’s applications.
Abortion advocates are naturally concerned about their chances of a successful challenge. Mississippi College law professor Matt Steffey said arguments regarding abortion can be especially hard to make in the 5th Circuit in New Orleans. “The 5th Circuit is perhaps the most conservative circuit in the country. It’s disinclined to read the U.S. Supreme Court’s decisions on abortion rights expansively. Those combinations of factors tell me that the people challenging the law, while I think their challenges may have a lot of merit, may ultimately face an uphill battle,” Steffey said.
Pro-life advocates are glad for the current legal trend. “The way the system is now, they (surgeons) don’t take responsibility beyond the procedure they do in the office. That’s irresponsible, and it is not appropriate for the woman who has entrusted them with her care,” said Freda Bush, a Flowood OB-GYN. She is one of many asserting the purpose of the admitting privileges requirement is for women’s health and safety, as uch privileges allow the surgeon to remain responsible for the patients’ care from beginning to end, to improve communication between physicians and to ensure the patient gets the care she needs.
Attorneys presented their cases in May. One member of the three-judge panel told attorney Paul Barnes, “You’ve got a steep hill to climb when you say the only clinic in the state is closing.” Barnes replied that the Supreme Court has held that the Constitution guarantees the right to an abortion, but not an unsafe one. He said the new law is designed to ensure the health and safety of Mississippi women.
The decision of the court could come at any time.