Lawyers and activists expected a decision today from a federal court about whether or not to kill a new abortion regulation in Mississippi that will shut down the only abortion clinic in the state, but it seems the wait is going to be longer, as U.S. District Judge Daniel Jordan instead just extended the temporary injunction preventing the law from being enforced. The regulation requires doctors working at the clinic to have admitting privileges at local hospitals, even though there’s no medically necessary reason for such a thing, as abortion is one of the safest outpatient medical procedures around. It was clearly written with the specific doctors at the clinic in mind, who don’t have admitting privileges already, mainly because they all live out of state in order to be safe from anti-choice terrorists. The clinic attempted to get the doctors the admitting privileges, but unsurprisingly, the local hospitals are uncooperative under the circumstances.
The entire case has been different than most battles over abortion regulation. Most TRAP (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers) laws are passed with the defenders making a big show out of how this isn’t about restricting abortion—oh no!—but about protecting women’s health. They do this for a couple of reasons. Part of it is to promulgate the myth that abortion clinics are scary, dirty places full of evil people, instead of the boring old doctors offices that they actually are. But it’s mainly because they’re on legally iffy ground if they’re more direct about their intentions. The government’s power to regulate medical facilities is justified by their interest in public health and safety, but denying women access to abortion is actually known to degrade public health and safety by encouraging unsafe illegal abortion. That doesn’t mean that they can’t do it, but it’s not surprising that they want to play it safe.
In this case, however, the politicians advocating the law have been blunt that they don’t care about women’s health so much as ending legal abortion. Rachel Maddow did a report showing how many of the legislators behind this law openly said it was about ending legal abortion, including one state representative who admitted that he was fine if women were killed or injured by illegal abortion because of this law.
When issuing his first injunction against the law, Judge Jordan specifically singled out these statements as a problem, saying, “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.” It’s unclear if this issue will matter in the long run. People on both sides will have to wait and see.