With legislative efforts to close the Jackson Women’s Health Organization tied up in federal court, anti-choice activists in Mississippi have adopted an alternative strategy to try and close the last remaining abortion clinic in the state. According to reports, leaders of Pro-Life Mississippi, Physicians for Life Mississippi, Mississippi Right to Life, and the Pro Life Action Network filed a complaint with the state Department of Health last week questioning what they characterize as “discrepancies” in abortion statistics reported by the clinic to the state and in what the groups believe to be the practices at the Jackson clinic. Those “discrepancies,” the anti-choice groups claim, raise the question of whether or not the clinic is in compliance with state law.
The alleged discrepancies the anti-choice groups would like state investigators to examine include instances when the clinic reported a gestational age of “unknown.” In those cases, the groups would like the state to perform a complete audit on clinic files to recalculate and “correct” the reporting to confirm the clinic is not performing late-term abortions and not “hiding” those procedures in the unknown gestational age reporting. According to the groups, there is also no reporting of any medical abortions, despite the fact that the service is advertised on the clinic’s website. Finally, the groups claim, the low number of reported complications should raise suspicion because it is “amazingly low” for a facility that performs thousands of surgical abortions a year.
The complaint, filed via a letter to state health officials, asks the state to perform a complete investigation and audit into the clinic’s reporting practices but offers no independent evidence the clinic is misreporting its data. Nonetheless, officials for the State of Mississippi are obligated to investigate all complaints filed against any state-licensed facility.
While there is no immediate time frame for such an investigation, any audit would likely run into deadlines related to the legal challenge to Mississippi’s admitting privileges law, which is set for trial in March 2014. The law was to take effect July 1, 2012, but a federal judge first blocked the state from closing the clinic while physicians tried to get admitting privileges. After those efforts failed, the court ruled the state couldn’t close the clinic while the legal challenge is pending. Attorneys for the state have said they will ask a federal appeals court to overturn that ruling.
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For anti-choice activists, this latest complaint means that even if the litigation around Mississippi’s admitting privileges law ultimately fails they will have succeeded in tying the clinic up in another expensive and protracted legal and administrative process. For abortion rights advocates in the state, it means time and resources spent defending against allegations the clinic is in violation of reporting laws based on statistics published by state health officials and not the clinic itself. And for residents of Mississippi, it means the legal bills associated with the anti-choice campaign to close the Jackson Women’s Health Organization just got even more expensive.