The last abortion clinic in the state of Mississippi will remain open, for now, after a federal appeals court said a 2012 state law imposed an “undue burden” on a woman’s right to have an abortion.
The Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans ruled a 2012 state law in Mississippi requiring all abortion doctors in the state to obtain admitting privileges at a local hospital unconstitutional.
This is the second time this year a federal appeals court in New Orleans has heard arguments about the constitutionality of state laws governing abortion. In late March, the same court, different group of three judges, considered a similar 2013 Texas law.
That time, the court said the law was constitutional, reversing the decision of a lower court’s ruling.
In Texas, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans said, “on its face (the law) does not impose an undue burden on the life and health of a woman.” The law in Texas did not pose an undue burden because women could drive elsewhere in Texas for the procedure.
This time, the three-judge panel ruled 2-1 against the Mississippi state law.
In Mississippi, the Jackson Women’s Health Organization is the last open abortion clinic in the state. It sees more than 2,000 women a year. In addition to abortion care, the clinic provides contraceptive services.
The ruling applies only to Mississippi and allows the clinic to remain open pending any further litigation.
When the law requiring doctors to have admitting privileges was passed in 2012, two of the doctors who performed most of the abortions at the clinic were not able to get admitting privileges at a local hospital.
Without admitting privileges, the clinic was in danger of having its license revoked. A federal judge blocked the law and the state fought back. The clinic remained opened while the court was hearing the case and making its decision.
Abortion laws across the country
In 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled a woman has a constitutionally protected right to choose abortion in the early stages of pregnancy. The 1973 Roe v. Wade decision was upheld in 1992 in the Planned Parenthood v. Casey decision. The 1992 decision expanded a state's ability to put restrictions on a woman’s access to abortion, this includes limitations on public funding and consent requirements for minors.
Since the Roe v. Wade decision, court battles involving abortion laws have continued across the country.
In North Dakota, the lone abortion clinic in the state and government officials are battling it out in court over an abortion law. The law in question, one of the strictest in the country, is a state ban on any abortions when the fetal heartbeat can be detected. In some cases that can be as early as six weeks into a pregnancy.
In April, a U.S. district judge ruled the law unconstitutional. In June, North Dakota’s attorney general said the state will be appealing that ruling.
A Republican-controlled legislature in Missouri passed a measure in June that would triple the amount of time a woman has to wait after seeing a doctor and having an abortion. When it reached Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon’s desk it was vetoed.
The current wait period in Missouri is 24 hours. The proposed law would have increased the time period to 72 hours. Utah and South Dakota are the only states to mandate a 72-hour waiting period. Currently, there is only one clinic in Missouri performing elective abortions.
When the law was upheld in Texas, the court argued women could still travel within the state of Texas to get an abortion, even if some of the clinics are forced to close and the closest abortion clinic was over 200 miles away.
Since the law was adopted a year ago, around half of Texas's abortion clinics have closed.
In Mississippi, closing the last open clinic in the state would mean women seeking abortions would have to travel out of the state for the procedure. While in court, the state argued it would be OK because women could travel elsewhere, to Alabama or Louisiana, where access to abortion clinics is also being limited.
State legislatures write laws that impact abortion access for women. This map shows the percentage of counties within a state without an abortion clinic, according to the Guttmacher Institute. States shaded darker blue have a greater percentage of counties without an abortion clinic.
The federal court judges disagreed and said the Mississippi law imposed an “undue burden” on a woman’s right to have an abortion.
In Louisiana a similar law has been passed by state lawmakers and was signed into law in June. Critics of Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal have said the law will force three of the state's five abortion clinics to close.
Alabama has a similar law in place, but it was blocked by the court. A final decision is pending from U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson after a three-week trial was held in Montgomery in June.
Right now, 10 states have laws relating to physicians and hospital admitting privileges in place: Alabama, Kansas, Mississippi, North Dakota, Louisiana, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Oklahoma and Wisconsin.
The laws in Alabama and Wisconsin are currently blocked in court cases. The federal court ruled against the Mississippi law and a similar law in Missouri was vetoed by the governor.
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