Finally, some good news in the world of reproductive rights! On Tuesday, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 against a Mississippi law that would close the state’s lone abortion clinic. The case brought into question the constitutionality of a 2012 law requiring physicians at the clinic, Jackson Women’s Health Organization, obtain admitting privileges at a local hospital. The clinic and Dr. Willie Parker challenged the law, arguing that it interfered with a woman’s constitutional right to obtain an abortion. The three-judge panel ruled that the law was indeed unconstitutional, arguing that closing the clinic means that Mississippi would be shifting its constitutional obligation to neighboring states and would place an undue burden on a woman’s right to seek an abortion. Physicians affiliated with the clinic tried to obtain admitting privileges at all of the local hospitals, but their requests were denied. An injunction was put in place to keep the clinic open while the case was being decided. The ruling upholds that injunction.
The Mississippi law, HB 1390, is similar to the laws in Texas, Wisconsin, and Alabama that have been shutting down clinics. In fact, HB 1390 bears a striking resemblance to some provisions in Texas’s HB 2, a law that a different panel of judges on the same circuit upheld earlier in the year. The difference in this particular case lies in the fact that the Jackson Women’s Health Organization is the only abortion provider serving Mississippi’s 1.5 million women. In their Tuesday ruling, the judges cited a 1938 Supreme Court decision, Gaines v. Canada, in which it was determined that states could not discriminate in the distribution of state services by relying on the availability of similar services in nearby states. The judges made it clear that Tuesday’s ruling only applies to Mississippi.
This ruling doesn’t mean that the Jackson Women’s Health Organization is safe from future attacks. But for right now, we should celebrate the fact that Dr. Willie Parker and the other staff members at Jackson Women's Health Organization can continue to provide Mississippi's women with the reproductive health care they need.