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.

News Abortion

Anti-Choice Leader to Remove Himself From Medical Board Case in Ohio

Michelle D. Anderson

In a letter to the State of Ohio Medical Board, representatives from nine groups shared comments made by Gonidakis and said he lacked the objectivity required to remain a member of the medical board. The letter’s undersigned said the board should take whatever steps necessary to force Gonidakis’ resignation if he failed to resign.

Anti-choice leader Mike Gonidakis said Monday that he would remove himself from deciding a complaint against a local abortion provider after several groups asked that he resign as president of the State of Ohio Medical Board.

The Associated Press first reported news of Gonidakis’ decision, which came after several pro-choice groups said he should step down from the medical board because he had a conflict of interest in the pending complaint.

The complaint, filed by Dayton Right to Life on August 3, alleged that three abortion providers working at Women’s Med Center in Dayton violated state law and forced an abortion on a patient that was incapable of withdrawing her consent due to a drug overdose.

Ohio Right to Life issued a news release the same day Dayton Right to Life filed its complaint, featuring a quotation from its executive director saying that local pro-choice advocates forfeit “whatever tinge of credibility” it had if it refused to condemn what allegedly happened at Women’s Med Center.

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Gonidakis, the president of Ohio Right to Life, had then forwarded a copy of the news release to ProgressOhio Executive Director Sandy Theis with a note saying, “Sandy…. Will you finally repudiate the industry for which you so proudly support? So much for ‘women’s health’. So sad.”

On Friday, ProgressOhio, along with eight other groupsDoctors for Health Care Solutions, Common Cause Ohio, the Ohio National Organization for Women, Innovation Ohio, the Ohio House Democratic Women’s Caucus, the National Council of Jewish Women, Democratic Voices of Ohio, and Ohio Voice—responded to Gonidakis’ public and private commentary by writing a letter to the medical board asking that he resign.

In the letter, representatives from those groups shared comments made by Gonidakis and said he lacked the objectivity required to remain a member of the medical board. The letter’s undersigned said the board should take whatever steps necessary to force Gonidakis’ resignation if he failed to resign.

Contacted for comment, the medical board did not respond by press time.

The Ohio Medical Board protects the public by licensing and regulating physicians and other health-care professionals in part by reviewing complaints such as the one filed by Dayton Right to Life.

The decision-making body includes three non-physician consumer members and nine physicians who serve five-year terms when fully staffed. Currently, 11 citizens serve on the board.

Gonidakis, appointed in 2012 by Ohio Gov. John Kasich, is a consumer member of the board and lacks medical training.

Theis told Rewire in a telephone interview that the letter’s undersigned did not include groups like NARAL Pro-Choice and Planned Parenthood in its effort to highlight the conflict with Gonidakis.

“We wanted it to be about ethics” and not about abortion politics, Theis explained to Rewire.

Theis said Gonidakis had publicly condemned three licensed doctors from Women’s Med Center without engaging the providers or hearing the facts about the alleged incident.

“He put his point out there on Main Street having only heard the view of Dayton Right to Life,” Theis said. “In court, a judge who does something like that would have been thrown off the bench.”

Arthur Lavin, co-chairman of Doctors for Health Care Solutions, told the Associated Press the medical board should be free from politics.

Theis said ProgressOhio also exercised its right to file a complaint with the Ohio Ethics Commission to have Gonidakis removed because Theis had first-hand knowledge of his ethical wrongdoing.

The 29-page complaint, obtained by Rewire, details Gonidakis’ association with anti-choice groups and includes a copy of the email he sent to Theis.

Common Cause Ohio was the only group that co-signed the letter that is decidedly not pro-choice. A policy analyst from the nonpartisan organization told the Columbus Dispatch that Common Cause was not for or against abortion, but had signed the letter because a clear conflict of interest exists on the state’s medical board.

Commentary Contraception

Hillary Clinton Played a Critical Role in Making Emergency Contraception More Accessible

Susan Wood

Today, women are able to access emergency contraception, a safe, second-chance option for preventing unintended pregnancy in a timely manner without a prescription. Clinton helped make this happen, and I can tell the story from having watched it unfold.

In the midst of election-year talk and debates about political controversies, we often forget examples of candidates’ past leadership. But we must not overlook the ways in which Hillary Clinton demonstrated her commitment to women’s health before she became the Democratic presidential nominee. In early 2008, I wrote the following article for Rewirewhich has been lightly edited—from my perspective as a former official at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) about the critical role that Clinton, then a senator, had played in making the emergency contraception method Plan B available over the counter. She demanded that reproductive health benefits and the best available science drive decisions at the FDA, not politics. She challenged the Bush administration and pushed the Democratic-controlled Senate to protect the FDA’s decision making from political interference in order to help women get access to EC.

Since that time, Plan B and other emergency contraception pills have become fully over the counter with no age or ID requirements. Despite all the controversy, women at risk of unintended pregnancy finally can get timely access to another method of contraception if they need it—such as in cases of condom failure or sexual assault. By 2010, according to National Center for Health Statistics data, 11 percent of all sexually experienced women ages 15 to 44 had ever used EC, compared with only 4 percent in 2002. Indeed, nearly one-quarter of all women ages 20 to 24 had used emergency contraception by 2010.

As I stated in 2008, “All those who benefited from this decision should know it may not have happened were it not for Hillary Clinton.”

Now, there are new emergency contraceptive pills (Ella) available by prescription, women have access to insurance coverage of contraception without cost-sharing, and there is progress in making some regular contraceptive pills available over the counter, without prescription. Yet extreme calls for defunding Planned Parenthood, the costs and lack of coverage of over-the-counter EC, and refusals by some pharmacies to stock emergency contraception clearly demonstrate that politicization of science and limits to our access to contraception remain a serious problem.

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Today, women are able to access emergency contraception, a safe, second chance option for preventing unintended pregnancy in a timely manner without a prescription. Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) helped make this happen, and I can tell the story from having watched it unfold.

Although stories about reproductive health and politicization of science have made headlines recently, stories of how these problems are solved are less often told. On August 31, 2005 I resigned my position as assistant commissioner for women’s health at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) because the agency was not allowed to make its decisions based on the science or in the best interests of the public’s health. While my resignation was widely covered by the media, it would have been a hollow gesture were there not leaders in Congress who stepped in and demanded more accountability from the FDA.

I have been working to improve health care for women and families in the United States for nearly 20 years. In 2000, I became the director of women’s health for the FDA. I was rather quietly doing my job when the debate began in 2003 over whether or not emergency contraception should be provided over the counter (OTC). As a scientist, I knew the facts showed that this medication, which can be used after a rape or other emergency situations, prevents an unwanted pregnancy. It does not cause an abortion, but can help prevent the need for one. But it only works if used within 72 hours, and sooner is even better. Since it is completely safe, and many women find it impossible to get a doctor’s appointment within two to three days, making emergency contraception available to women without a prescription was simply the right thing to do. As an FDA employee, I knew it should have been a routine approval within the agency.

Plan B emergency contraception is just like birth control pills—it is not the “abortion pill,” RU-486, and most people in the United States don’t think access to safe and effective contraception is controversial. Sadly, in Congress and in the White House, there are many people who do oppose birth control. And although this may surprise you, this false “controversy” not only has affected emergency contraception, but also caused the recent dramatic increase in the cost of birth control pills on college campuses, and limited family planning services across the country.  The reality is that having more options for contraception helps each of us make our own decisions in planning our families and preventing unwanted pregnancies. This is something we can all agree on.

Meanwhile, inside the walls of the FDA in 2003 and 2004, the Bush administration continued to throw roadblocks at efforts to approve emergency contraception over the counter. When this struggle became public, I was struck by the leadership that Hillary Clinton displayed. She used the tools of a U.S. senator and fought ardently to preserve the FDA’s independent scientific decision-making authority. Many other senators and congressmen agreed, but she was the one who took the lead, saying she simply wanted the FDA to be able to make decisions based on its public health mission and on the medical evidence.

When it became clear that FDA scientists would continue to be overruled for non-scientific reasons, I resigned in protest in late 2005. I was interviewed by news media for months and traveled around the country hoping that many would stand up and demand that FDA do its job properly. But, although it can help, all the media in the world can’t make Congress or a president do the right thing.

Sen. Clinton made the difference. The FDA suddenly announced it would approve emergency contraception for use without a prescription for women ages 18 and older—one day before FDA officials were to face a determined Sen. Clinton and her colleague Sen. Murray (D-WA) at a Senate hearing in 2006. No one was more surprised than I was. All those who benefited from this decision should know it may not have happened were it not for Hillary Clinton.

Sometimes these success stories get lost in the “horse-race stories” about political campaigns and the exposes of taxpayer-funded bridges to nowhere, and who said what to whom. This story of emergency contraception at the FDA is just one story of many. Sen. Clinton saw a problem that affected people’s lives. She then stood up to the challenge and worked to solve it.

The challenges we face in health care, our economy, global climate change, and issues of war and peace, need to be tackled with experience, skills and the commitment to using the best available science and evidence to make the best possible policy.  This will benefit us all.


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