News Law and Policy

Mississippi Finally Stops Defending Clinic Shutdown Law

Jessica Mason Pieklo

Once Mississippi dropped its fight to maintain its clearly unconstitutional admitting privileges requirement, a federal court entered an order blocking it for good.

Late last week, a federal district judge permanently blocked a Mississippi law designed to close the state’s only abortion clinic.

The ruling comes eight months after the U.S. Supreme Court declared unconstitutional an almost identical Texas law in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt. The Texas law, like the Mississippi law struck down last week, would have required any doctor associated with an abortion clinic to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. In Hellerstedt, the Roberts Court ruled the restriction unduly burdened abortion rights, holding that lawmakers claiming to advance patient safety by restricting abortion access had to have evidence such restrictions would do so. In Hellerstedt, the Supreme Court ruled those admitting privileges failed that legal standard.

Despite that ruling, attorneys on behalf of the State of Mississippi continued to defend its admitting privileges law until earlier this month when they told the court that they could not “identify any meaningful distinction between the Texas admitting privileges law struck down in Hellerstedt and the admitting privileges requirement of HB 1390,” the Mississippi law at issue here.

Mississippi has been defending its admitting privileges law since 2012 when Center for Reproductive Rights attorneys first sued to block the measure. In April 2013, a federal district court fully blocked the measure and prevented the state from enforcing the requirement while the legal challenge to the law’s constitutionality proceeded. A three-judge panel from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed the injunction blocking the law in July 2014. After a request from the state’s lawyers, the Roberts Court refused to take Mississippi’s case following its June 2016 Hellerstedt decision, leaving in place the orders blocking the admitting privileges requirement from taking effect.

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Mississippi law still mandates only medical board-certified or eligible OB-GYNs may provide abortions in the state. It is the only state in the country with such a requirement, and a legal challenge to that requirement is ongoing.

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