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Is Mississippi to be abortion-free?

Gov. Phil Bryant will soon sign into law House Bill 1390, effectively removing the ability to perform abortions from all but one doctor in Mississippi.
Mississippi House Bill 1390 amends the Mississippi Code of 1972 § 41-75-1. Title 41 dictates the area of public health and chapter 75 governs ambulatory surgical facilities. Section 1 of this chapter delineates definitions important for the implementation of these statutes.
House Bill 1390 specifically amends § 41-75-1(f) “abortion facility.” As amended, the statute will require the following:
All physicians associated with the abortion facility must have admitting privileges at a local hospital and staff privileges to replace local hospital on-staff physicians. All physicians associated with an abortion facility must be board-certified or eligible in obstetrics and gynecology, and a staff member trained in CPR shall always be present at the abortion facility when it is open.
Jackson Women’s Health Organization is the only state-licensed abortion facility. While all three of its current physicians are licensed OB-GYNs, only one has admitting privileges at the local hospital. It is unclear whether or not this amendment will force the clinic to close, but it is clear that it will severely limit women’s access to abortion in Mississippi, which was already arguably the most limited in the country.
It may not be as simple as applying for admitting privileges, either. Currently, the two physicians at this clinic who do not have admitting privileges, reside outside of Mississippi. Admitting privileges are not normally granted to out-of-state doctors. But if the doctors are unable to obtain privileges as mandated by the new law, they may have standing to challenge its legality.
Gov. Bryant demonstrated his support of this bill and its protection of “the health and safety of women.” His statements demonstrate the politicized nature of abortion in Mississippi and our country. On its face, yes, requiring physicians at abortion facilities to be licensed OB-GYNs and have admitting privileges increases the legitimacy of these facilities and ensures the highest standards of health and safety. But the Mississippi Legislature also purposefully crafted this bill in order to make Mississippi “abortion-free,” which arguably poses a threat to the health and safety of women and reflects a lack of respect toward a woman’s right to choose.
Constitutionally, the bill may not stand. Under Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992), the United States Supreme Court held that a state may not place an undue burden on women seeking an abortion. Forcing women to go out of the state is an undue burden. But a woman seeking an abortion in Mississippi must challenge the bill on those grounds, and in such a politically tense environment, that is unlikely to happen.
POLITICO quotes Rep. Mims saying, “Mississippi members of the legislature are pro-life.” Arguably, most Mississippians are pro-life, but this bill is reactionary. These legislators are displeased with the failure of Proposition 26 last fall and are responding by lashing out at the lone state-licensed abortion facility. Is it really proper for a popularly elected body to react in a way that is clearly contrary to what the populace wants, as demonstrated by the rejection of Prop 26?
Ultimately, the focus on abortion in Mississippi seems misguided. While it was announced this week that teen pregnancy rates have dropped across every state and are the lowest since the 1940s, Mississippi continues to lead the United States in this area. Instead of focusing on eliminating abortion for women who are already pregnant and who are already severely limited in their access to such services, perhaps we should focus on educating our children and teenagers on how to avoid this situation altogether.
If the concern truly is the health and safety of women, let’s fund educational programs in schools, churches and other community facilities that educate all women, children, teenagers and even men on how to protect the health and safety of women outside the abortion context. Instead of being a leader in eliminating abortion and teen pregnancy, Mississippi could be a leader in women’s health and safety initiatives — a lofty goal for a state embroiled in poverty and politics, but not one that is yet out of reach.

Emily Stedman is a second-year law student from Marietta, Ga.