News Abortion

As Judge In Mississippi Hears TRAP Law, What Factors Will He Consider?

Robin Marty

Judge Jordan will likely be weighing out the state's allegations of safety issues against the fundamental right of a woman to access an abortion.

District Judge Daniel Jordan will decide today whether or not to allow the state of Mississippi to enforce its new law that would close down Mississippi’s only public clinic to provide abortions by requiring doctors in the clinic to have admitting privileges to a local hospital. In determining the case, Jordan will have to weigh the state’s allegations that it is trying to protect the health of women from unsafe conditions versus a woman’s constitutional right to access an abortion. Mississippi lawmakers and anti-choice advocates have upped their accusations of potential health risks and their desire to “protect women” as they discuss the bill and present their evidence, but will that be enough to override a decade’s worth of public comment about their desire to make the state abortion-free by any means available?

The crux of the “safety issue” is the idea that Jackson Women’s Health Organization clinic owner Diane Derzis runs an operation that disregards safety standards, leading to a likelihood of potential abortion complications, and that requiring admitting privileges for the clinic’s doctors is a logical move should a complication require emergency follow up. To support their argument, the state uses testimony from known anti-abortion researchers such as John Thorp, Jr., M.D, who researched “physical harm” allegedly caused by having abortions, and James Anderson, chairman of Virginia Physicians for Life.

Also being used to support the idea of unsafe conditions in the clinic is a lawsuit by former clinic provider Dr. Joseph Booker, who filed for wrongful termination after he was let go from the organization in 2010. The lawsuit claims primarily that Derzis created a hostile work environment and made staffing and care choices based on racial bias and an attempt to financially profit as much as she could once she took over ownership of JWHO. But the defense is using allegations that she approved allowing the use of RU-486 for any woman in the state who wanted a medication termination, rather than just local women, compromising their health due to a potential lack of access to follow up care in case of complications.

The state also points to the recent removal of Derzis as owner of New Women All Women clinic in Alabama after that state’s Department of Public Health reported over 70 health violations during an investigation shortly after a medical error sent two patients to the hospital.  A number of the violations were technical and had little to do with patients or protocol, and as Ann Rose of Abortion Clinincs Online notes, one was written up 10 different ways in order to appear as separate violations and increase the number in the report.

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Derzis and her lawyers dismiss the allegations that her clinic could put women’s health in jeopardy and that admitting privileges is a necessary step to protect them. They note that since Derzis had taken over ownership, there had been no ambulances called to the clinic, and that if a complication should arise they have a transfer agreement with a local hospital. Instead, this is a law meant only to specifically target her clinic and shut it down.

Nancy Northup, President and CEO of Center for Reproductive Rights explained the issue to NPR:

If they feel that every doctor in the state of Mississippi should have admitting privileges in a hospital, OK. Pass that broad law that will apply to all doctors in the state. If they think all OB-GYNs in the state should have admitting privileges to the hospitals, that’s another thing.

This is designed specifically. They know that the doctors are coming from out of state because of the hostility towards abortion services in the state of Mississippi. And they know that, in this hostile atmosphere in Mississippi, the hospitals can turn them down – not because of anything in the doctor’s background. I mean, these are very well-qualified physicians. No. They can turn them down because they just choose to. And, in fact, that was the whole intent of the law.

To support their health claim, state lawmakers have recently switched their public comments to focus on women’s health, and toned down their zeal for ending abortion in the state. Rep. Sam Mims, who has not only heavily advocated for the bill but said he was looking for ways to implement it even faster because he didn’t “want to give the facility 10 extra days to perform abortions” told NPR in his own interview:

[E]ven if this abortion clinic closes, abortion is still legal in Mississippi. We don’t have the ability to outlaw it. And so that argument that if this abortion clinic closes, that no one can receive an abortion is just silly. It’s not true, because we know if a mother is pregnant and she has to abort this child because of the life of the mother, then that’s going to continue.

The second issue, we also want them to choose life. We want them to realize that that is a life, and so we hope they choose life. We hope if they do not want to keep the child, we hope they look at adoption and other areas. And so, again, that is not the intent of the legislation. To me, this is a health care issue.

However, being “abortion-free” has been a goal of Mississippi’s anti-choice activists for a long time, and although they may have stopped saying as much publicly since the injunction was issued, the history is still there.  It started in 1994 with “No Place To Hide,” an effort to intimidate the state’s only doctor to publicly provide abortions in the hopes of making Mississippi “the first state to be functionally free of child killers.”  It continued into 2007 when legislators specifically started openly advocating to make the state provider-less, focusing on JWHO first.

State Sen. Richard White, a Republican from Hines County, said his goal now is to go beyond the restrictions. “I feel like in the next couple of years you’re going to see Mississippi be the first one to stop abortion.”

So far, Mississippi law states that if and when the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court ruling, which allows abortions, is overturned, abortion will automatically become illegal here.

White hopes to push beyond that by sponsoring a bill to overturn abortion’s legality altogether, which would then force a court battle over Roe v. Wade itself.

For Tanya Britton, the president of Pro-Life Mississippi, an anti-abortion group, the short-term plan is to shut down the state’s last remaining clinic and then focus on ending abortion nationwide.

“Not one child will die by abortion, and not one mother will be maimed by abortion. That is the ultimate goal,” Britton said.

In today’s hearing, Judge Jordan will decide whether to extend the restraining order on the law, enforce a permanent block, or allow the law to go into effect.  Any option will result in appeals, with the question being whether the clinic will remain open in the mean time. The state will argue that because it will take at least 60 days to enforce the new law, there is no need to continue to block it for now. The clinic, on the other hand, will point to Mims’ eagerness to move quickly as a reason to act now.

Whichever way the judge rules, women will suffer, either because of a lack of access by shutting down the sole clinic, or the renewed efforts of anti-abortion activists to make the state truly abortion-free, even at the expense of the health of the women they claim they want to protect. 

We will have the judge’s decision when it is available.

Roundups Law and Policy

Gavel Drop: Republicans Can’t Help But Play Politics With the Judiciary

Jessica Mason Pieklo & Imani Gandy

Republicans have a good grip on the courts and are fighting hard to keep it that way.

Welcome to Gavel Drop, our roundup of legal news, headlines, and head-shaking moments in the courts.

Linda Greenhouse has another don’t-miss column in the New York Times on how the GOP outsourced the judicial nomination process to the National Rifle Association.

Meanwhile, Dahlia Lithwick has this smart piece on how we know the U.S. Supreme Court is the biggest election issue this year: The Republicans refuse to talk about it.

The American Academy of Pediatrics is urging doctors to fill in the blanks left by “abstinence-centric” sex education and talk to their young patients about issues including sexual consent and gender identity.

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Good news from Alaska, where the state’s supreme court struck down its parental notification law.

Bad news from Virginia, though, where the supreme court struck down Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s executive order restoring voting rights to more than 200,000 felons.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) will leave behind one of the most politicized state supreme courts in modern history.

Turns out all those health gadgets and apps leave their users vulnerable to inadvertently disclosing private health data.

Julie Rovner breaks down the strategies anti-choice advocates are considering after their Supreme Court loss in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt.   

Finally, Becca Andrews at Mother Jones writes that Texas intends to keep passing abortion restrictions based on junk science, despite its loss in Whole Woman’s Health.

News Politics

Debbie Wasserman Schultz Resigns as Chair of DNC, Will Not Gavel in Convention

Ally Boguhn

Donna Brazile, vice chair of the DNC, will step in as interim replacement for Wasserman Schultz as committee chair.

On the eve of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) resigned her position as chair of the Democratic National Committee (DNC), effective after the convention, amid controversy over leaked internal party emails and months of criticism over her handling of the Democratic primary races.

Wasserman Schultz told the Sun Sentinel on Monday that she would not gavel in this week’s convention, according to Politico.

“I know that electing Hillary Clinton as our next president is critical for America’s future,” Wasserman Schultz said in a Sunday statement announcing her decision. “Going forward, the best way for me to accomplish those goals is to step down as Party Chair at the end of this convention.”

“We have planned a great and unified Convention this week and I hope and expect that the DNC team that has worked so hard to get us to this point will have the strong support of all Democrats in making sure this is the best convention we have ever had,” Wasserman Schultz continued.

Just prior to news that Wasserman Schultz would step down, it was announced that Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH) would chair the DNC convention.

Donna Brazile, vice chair of the DNC, will step in as interim replacement for Wasserman Schultz as committee chair.

Wasserman Schultz’s resignation comes after WikiLeaks released more than 19,000 internal emails from the DNC, breathing new life into arguments that the Democratic Party—and Wasserman Schultz in particular—had “rigged” the primary in favor of nominating Hillary Clinton. As Vox‘s Timothy B. Lee pointed out, there seems to be “no bombshells” in the released emails, though one email does show that Brad Marshall, chief financial officer of the DNC, emailed asking whether an unnamed person could be questioned about “his” religious beliefs. Many believe the email was referencing Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-VT).

Another email from Wasserman Schultz revealed the DNC chair had referred to Sanders’ campaign manager, Jeff Weaver, as a “damn liar.”

As previously reported by Rewire before the emails’ release, “Wasserman Schultz has been at the center of a string of heated criticisms directed at her handling of the DNC as well as allegations that she initially limited the number of the party’s primary debates, steadfastly refusing to add more until she came under pressure.” She also sparked controversy in January after suggesting that young women aren’t supporting Clinton because there is “a complacency among the generation” who were born after Roe v. Wade was decided.

“Debbie Wasserman Schultz has made the right decision for the future of the Democratic Party,” said Sanders in a Sunday statement. “While she deserves thanks for her years of service, the party now needs new leadership that will open the doors of the party and welcome in working people and young people. The party leadership must also always remain impartial in the presidential nominating process, something which did not occur in the 2016 race.”

Sanders had previously demanded Wasserman Schultz’s resignation in light of the leaked emails during an appearance earlier that day on ABC’s This Week.

Clinton nevertheless stood by Wasserman Schultz in a Sunday statement responding to news of the resignation. “I am grateful to Debbie for getting the Democratic Party to this year’s historic convention in Philadelphia, and I know that this week’s events will be a success thanks to her hard work and leadership,” said Clinton. “There’s simply no one better at taking the fight to the Republicans than Debbie—which is why I am glad that she has agreed to serve as honorary chair of my campaign’s 50-state program to gain ground and elect Democrats in every part of the country, and will continue to serve as a surrogate for my campaign nationally, in Florida, and in other key states.”

Clinton added that she still looks “forward to campaigning with Debbie in Florida and helping her in her re-election bid.” Wasserman Schultz faces a primary challenger, Tim Canova, for her congressional seat in Florida’s 23rd district for the first time this year.