It’s a sad day for women’s reproductive rights in Mississippi. The state’s strict new law might soon force its only practicing abortion clinic out of business. The law, which will take effect on Saturday, mandates that all doctors who perform abortions also have admitting privileges at a local hospital. This means that doctors would have to be able to admit patients to a hospital in the event of an emergency at the clinic. Tennessee has passed a similar law, but this one seems pretty clearly aimed at shutting down the sole clinic in Mississippi.
The lone abortion clinic, the Jackson Women’s Health Organization, is located in the state capital and has been practicing since 1996. About 2000 women received abortions there in 2010 and 2011. The clinic’s spokeswoman, Betty Thompson, said:
The political climate is very hostile, particularly for the hospitals. I understand the position they’re in as well, however, there is no legal or reasonable reason for us not to be available to take care of our own patients if we have problems.
The clinic applied for admitting privileges in May, when Governor Phil Bryant signed the law. Mississippi has long been a battleground for reproductive rights, although during the early 1980s the state had as many as 14 abortion clinics. Voters recently shot down a constitutional “personhood” amendment, which intended to define life as beginning at the time of conception, but anti-abortion lawmakers were not deterred. In fact, the governor himself said Democrats “one mission in life is to abort children.” While the governor certainly has a right to his pro-life stance, I don’t think reproductive rights are such a black-and-white issue, especially not in Mississippi.
Mississippi is the poorest state, per capita income, in the United States. It really scares me to think that in an economically-depressed state, there might soon be zero options for pregnant women who want to terminate their pregnancies. If the Jackson Women’s Health Organization is forced to close its doors, Mississippi women would have to travel to Louisiana, Arkansas, Alabama or Tennessee to get an abortion. Travel to another state seems really prohibitive to me, especially for women at a lower income level. In fact, the doctors who staff the clinic all travel to Jackson to work; none of them is a full-time resident of Mississippi. What a huge indication of the reproductive rights climate in the state.
According to the CDC, Mississippi also has the highest rate of teen pregnancy in the nation, more than 60% above the national average. I’m pretty sure everyone, no matter what their political leanings, can agree teen pregnancy is a problem, more so in Mississippi than anywhere else. It’s an extremely complicated issue, but I don’t think taking away the state’s only abortion clinic will make it less complicated, especially for the pregnant teenagers that might not want to become mothers or give their babies up for adoption.
Inspectors from the Mississippi Department of Health will check to see if the Jackson Women’s Health Organization has appropriately complied with the new law. If they haven’t, they will receive 10 working days to submit a plan as to how they will comply with the law in the future. The clinic is reportedly doing everything it can to stay open. Let’s hope the clinic is allowed to keep operating so that Mississippi women can continue to have choices about their own bodies, lives, and reproductive health.