The XX Factor

Mississippi’s Last Abortion Clinic Back in Court, Fighting to Stay Open

Dr. Willie Parker

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The embattled last remaining abortion clinic in Mississippi will be in court again Monday, as the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals considers upholding an injunction against a new law requiring doctors to have admitting privileges at a local hospital in order to provide abortions. Dr. Willie Parker is suing to overturn the law, pointing out correctly that there’s no medical reason that abortion providers should have admitting privileges when they don’t have patients who require hospitalization. Parker is a well-regarded gynecologist who flies from Chicago to Jackson, Miss., a few times a month to provide abortions. He’s tried to get hospital admitting privileges in accordance with the law, but he told NPR that his efforts were stymied. “Some we received no response from, but the ones that we did, they made reference to the fact that because the care we provide is related to abortion, they felt it might be disruptive to the internal politics, as well as the external politics, for the hospital,” he said of the 13 hospitals he asked for admitting privileges. 

Today the appeals court will be looking at an injunction against the law that a judge in a lower federal court issued last year. If the 5th Circuit overturns that ruling and allows the law to be enforced while it’s being battled out in court, then the last clinic in the state will likely have to close its doors. “If it is allowed to take effect, Mississippi will become the first state since Roe v. Wade without a single clinic offering safe, legal abortion care,” said Julie Rikelman, a lawyer from the Center for Reproductive Rights who is arguing Parker’s case. Women in Mississippi who need abortions will be left to travel out of state or seek illegal abortion methods, such as using black-market abortion pills.

There’s good reason to be pessimistic about this case. The 5th Circuit is notoriously right-leaning and recently decided to uphold a similar law in Texas, forcing many clinics in the state to shutter their doors or stop providing abortions. The fact that these kinds of regulations are not medically necessary at all doesn’t seem to matter to the court, as Irin Carmon of MSNBC writes. The 5th Circuit judge on the Texas case wrote that legislators have every right to craft medical regulations “based on rational speculation unsupported by evidence or empirical data.” In other words, the court has found that facts and evidence need not apply here, and if a state wants to make up regulations out of thin air that have no medical basis of support but just happen to end legal access to abortion, they should feel free to do so.

With that kind of precedent, it’s not looking good for the last abortion clinic in Mississippi. And as Carmon notes, if the 5th Circuit goes this expected way, it will create a path for other highly conservative Southern states to functionally ban abortion without coming right out and banning it. It’s not entirely crazy to think that, eventually, women who need abortions in the South won’t just have to travel to the next state—they’ll have to come North.