Good news for the uteruses of Mississippi: There has been a small complication in the relentless Republican drive to make their state abortion-free. Yesterday a federal judge temporarily blocked enforcement of a new law that would have shut down the Jackson Women's Health Organization, the only abortion clinic operating in Mississippi. It's a small victory for those who don't want women to have to resort to coathangers and back alleys, but unfortunately it's not at all clear how long this reprieve will last.
As you may remember, the law requires that doctors performing abortions in the state have privileges to admit patients to the local hospital. The problem is that the two of the three OB-GYNs who perform abortions at the state's only remaining clinic (pictured above, complete with protesters) travel from out of state to do them and don't have local admitting privileges. Despite the clinic's efforts to comply with the new law, the nearby hospitals have made it exceedingly difficult (read: impossible) for the clinic to obtain these privileges. Thus, this law will effectively shut down abortions at this clinic and ensure that Mississippi is officially thrust back into the dark ages.
The law was set to take effect yesterday, but U.S. District Judge Daniel P. Jordan issued a temporary restraining order, saying, "Though the debate over abortion continues, there exists legal precedent the court must follow." Whaaaa? Legal precedent? I thought this was Amurrica, where guys named Bubba just get to decide that they're fine with stripping away women's rights, and the rest of us just have to go along with it. But it turns out that we actually have a few rules we have to follow. Cool.
This particular order was in response to a lawsuit filed by the Jackson Women's Health Organization, which argued that the law was designed to shut the clinic down and that the admitting privileges requirement was not medically necessary. In the order, the judge wrote,
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.
Join me in wishing the very best of luck to the Republican legislators and governor who supported the law in rebutting this evidence, because it legitimately cannot be done. Especially since they've pretty much gone out of their way to state that the purpose of this law was to terminate abortions in the state. Nancy Northup, from the Center for Reproductive Rights (which helped file the lawsuit), says,
The opponents of reproductive rights in the Mississippi legislature have made no secret of their intent to make legal abortion virtually disappear in the state of Mississippi. Their hostility toward women, reproductive health care providers, and the rights of both would unquestionably put the lives and health of countless women at risk of grave harm.
Despite this deeply sound logic, Republican Representative Sam Mims, who sponsored the legislation, is clinging desperately to the idea that this law is designed to protect women from themselves. He said yesterday, "We know for a fact that this is a serious procedure. Women can have complications." Nice try, buddy. As for where we go from here, the judge has set a hearing for July 11th to determine whether the block will remain in effect for a longer period.
But for now, Diane Derzis, who is the owner and president of the Jackson Women's Health Organization, says of the judge's decision, "I'm jubilant. It means the constitutional rights of women to make their decision, for the time being, is in place." She added, "This is not about safety. This is about politics. Politics do not need to be in our uterus." Well, at least they don't yet—until the government in Mississippi passes a law that says we must let politicians enter our uteruses whenever they like. But, thanks to the judge's decision, the women of Mississippi have retained the option to decide for themselves what they keep in their uterus for a little while longer.