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Federal Judge Blocks Mississippi TRAP Law, Abortion Still Accessible For Now

Robin Marty

A new bill designed to stop all abortions performed outside of private doctor's offices is now in effect.  Is Mississippi's only public provider closing as a result?

Jackson Women’s Health Organization will open this morning despite the fact that H.B. 1390, a Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers (TRAP) law crafted to close the clinic by creating unnecessary and cumbersome regulations, was scheduled to go into effect today.

Late yesterday, a federal judge issued an injunction declaring that the state cannot enforce its TRAP law until after a full court hearing is held.  

Legislators made it clear that they were looking for a fast track to revoke the clinic’s license as soon as possible after the inspection, but said that even if JWHO doesn’t show compliance, the clinic itself won’t close immediately. There would be a ten-day grace period at the very least that would allow the clinic to come up with an “action plan” to address the issue, then a period before the license would be revoked. The state health department claims it would be “at least 60 days” to make it through the appeals process.

However, clinic owner Diane Derzis stated that the fines that the clinic would incur for operating out of compliance during that appeals process could be as much as $2000 a day and even worse could open her employees up to potential arrest.

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The law will now be on hold until at least July 11th, when the court will “determine, after further briefing by the parties, whether a preliminary injunction should be issued,” according to the court record.

“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,” said Nancy Northup, President and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, which is representing Derzis and her providers in court. “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.”

“While we are pleased the court has decided to temporarily block enforcement of this medically unwarranted restriction, this battle is far from over. We will continue to fight alongside the Jackson Women’s Health Organization to ensure that the women of Mississippi are not relegated to a second class of U.S. citizens, denied the constitutionally-protected rights that other women nationwide are guaranteed,” Northup continued.

Derzis told CNN she was “jubilant” about the decision, but State Rep. Sam Mims, who authored the legislation, acknowledged that he was already working with lawyers to develop a “game plan” to decide on their best options.

Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant expressed his unhappiness with the ruling.  “Gov. Bryant believes HB 1390 is an important step in strengthening abortion regulations and protecting the health and safety of women. The federal judge’s decision is disappointing, and Gov. Bryant plans to work with state leaders to ensure this legislation properly takes effect as soon as possible,” said a spokesperson. Bryant was a co-chair in the Amendment 26 effort to add a constitutional amendment stating that a fertilized egg had legal rights and protections, an effort that was soundly defeated in November.

Even those who oppose abortion think that that using TRAP legislation to force providers to stop performing terminations is the wrong way to go about ending abortion.  “I think we should have a stronger government policy to go ahead and outlaw it,” abortion opponent Donna Medlin told ABC News 24. “We should have enough senators and politicians that stand up and do what they say they believe is right.”

If the legislature ever does manage to pass their bill, women will still get pregnant, and will still need abortions, whether or not JWHO is the one who provides them. Without the clinic, they would have to travel an additional 3 hours out of state to obtain safe abortion care, or they find a way to do them by themselves, however dangerous it may be.  As Derzis told The Guardian, “There is no question about it, some women are going to do whatever it takes…This doesn’t affect women with money so much, it is the women who are poor, with no resources that will suffer.”

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