Lone Mississippi abortion clinic seeks legal path to reopen
Published 5:16 pm Thursday, July 7, 2022
Attorneys for Mississippi’s only abortion clinic filed papers Thursday asking the state Supreme Court to block a new law that bans most abortions and to let the clinic reopen next week.
The clinic, Jackson Women’s Health Organization, is at the center of the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that overturned Roe v. Wade and took away women’s constitutional protection for abortion nationwide.
A Mississippi law that took effect Thursday bans most abortions, and the clinic performed its last procedures Wednesday. Clinic attorneys are making the same arguments that a trial court judge rejected Tuesday as the clinic tried to block the law from taking effect. They said that in 1998, the Mississippi Supreme Court ruled that the state constitution has a right to privacy that includes abortion.
“Absent relief, Mississippians will continue to be denied their rights under the Mississippi Constitution to privacy and bodily autonomy, as they are compelled by the State to endure the risks of pregnancy and bear children against their will,” clinic attorney Rob McDuff wrote.
It was not immediately clear when the conservative state Supreme Court would consider the appeal.
Diane Derzis, owner of the Mississippi clinic, told The Associated Press that she will have staff available to reopen the facility if the state Supreme Court allows.
“I’m not hopeful, but there’s always a possibility,” Derzis said Thursday.
As for the legal filing and the effort to stay open, she said: “All of us needed to know we exhausted all possibilities.”
The Mississippi clinic is best known as the Pink House because of its bright paint job. Some staff members were inside Thursday to do paperwork and follow-up appointments for a few patients. About 30 abortion opponents held a Christian worship service on a street next to the clinic.
“No more murdering innocent children here,” said Dr. Coleman Boyd, a physician who has frequently protested outside the clinic. “Christ is exalted. Innocent bloodshed in this building is done.”
Several of the abortion opponents yelled at Dr. Cheryl Hamlin as she arrived. Hamlin is an OB-GYN who has traveled from Boston the past five years to do abortions in Mississippi. She strode across the clinic parking lot and jabbed her finger at abortion protester John Busby, who called on her to repent.
“You’re idiots,” Hamlin said. “You don’t care. You’re going to hell. You. You are going to burn in hell. I’m so sick of you.”
As Hamlin walked away, Busby called after her: “You’re going to die in your sin, Cheryl, unless you repent for Jesus Christ.”
Also Thursday, North Dakota’s sole abortion clinic filed a state lawsuit seeking to block a trigger law banning abortion following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 ruling.
The Red River Women’s Clinic argues the ban violates the rights to life, safety and happiness guaranteed by the state constitution that protect the right to abortion. It said the ban also infringes on the right to liberty because it “deprives patients of the ability to control decisions about their families and their health.”
The North Dakota lawsuit is just the latest litigation to take aim at restrictions on abortions after the Supreme Court said the procedure was no longer protected by the U.S. Constitution.
The suit also questions Attorney General Drew Wrigley’s statement that the ban would take effect July 28. The clinic argued that the Supreme Court released its opinion June 24 but has not yet issued its judgment, which it said is a necessary step to trigger the state ban. The clinic said the high court typically takes that step at least 25 days after the opinion.
In certifying the closure date, Wrigley said “there’s not any ambiguity” in the Supreme Court decision. He said Thursday that his office is “carefully reviewing and evaluating” the complaint, but that he would not comment further until his response is filed.
Tammi Kromenaker, owner and operator of the Red River Women’s Clinic in Fargo, has said the facility would move across the river to Moorhead, Minnesota, if necessary but she would explore every legal option to remain open in North Dakota.
“We have faced relentless attacks from North Dakota lawmakers who have long wanted us gone,” Kromenaker said in announcing the lawsuit. “But we will fight this draconian ban like the other outrageous bans and restrictions that came before it.”
“In the meantime, we will keep our doors open to provide abortion care to patients who need us,” she said.
Also Thursday, national leaders advocating for abortion access were in South Carolina Thursday, when a committee considering a bill “to prohibit abortions” met for the first time to hear public testimony.
While a South Carolina law banning abortion around six weeks of pregnancy took effect on June 27, lawmakers are expected to return for a special session to further restrict the procedure.
Planned Parenthood Action Fund President Alexis McGill Johnson came to the statehouse one day after an appearance in North Carolina, where Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper signed an executive order protecting out-of-state abortion patients from extradition. She praised North Carolina as an abortion “refuge” and condemned South Carolina lawmakers’ efforts.
“All of these laws are designed to create chaos and confusion for people seeking access to care,” Planned Parenthood Action Fund President Alexis McGill Johnson told The Associated Press.