JACKSON, Miss. — The future of Mississippi’s only clinic where women can get abortions remains unclear after a federal judge’s ruling in a closely watched case.
US District Judge Daniel P. Jordan III ruled Friday that a strict abortion law passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature can take effect, but he gave the clinic more time to comply with the law’s requirements and said it will not face any criminal or civil penalties as it tries to do so.
The law requires anyone who performs abortions at the clinic to be an OB-GYN with privileges to admit patients to a local hospital. The clinic’s two out-of-state OB-GYNS do not have those privileges and have had difficulty getting them from local hospitals.
‘‘We do not yet know whether the clinic will obtain admitting and staff privileges,’’ the judge wrote. ‘‘As both parties stated during the hearing, the resolution of that issue will impact the ultimate issues in this case.’’
Both sides claimed partial victory .
‘‘The federal judge has provided crucial temporary protection for the clinic and its physicians,’’ said Nancy Northup, president and chief executive of the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights, which has been helping the clinic in the lawsuit. ‘‘We will remain vigilant in our fight to ensure the clinic isn’t subject to penalties that would force its doors to close and deprive Mississippi women of their constitutionally protected rights.’’
Governor Phil Bryant said he was gratified that the judge will allow the law to start taking effect. ‘‘Mississippi will continue to defend this important measure as the legal process moves forward,’’ the Republican governor said in a news release.
The clinic, Jackson Women’s Health Organization, has said it could be forced out of business with the admitting privileges requirement, making it nearly impossible to get an abortion in Mississippi.
The US Supreme Court has ruled that states cannot place undue burdens on, or create substantial obstacles to, women seeking abortions.
The clinic said its OB-GYNs have applied for admitting privileges at most Jackson-area hospitals but have not received responses. When clinic employees called a Catholic hospital to ask about applying for privileges, clinic owner Diane Derzis recently said, ‘‘We were told not to bother.’’
The clinic sued the state June 27 seeking to block the law. Jordan temporarily blocked the measure July 1, the day it was supposed to take effect. He heard arguments Wednesday about the clinic’s request for a longer injunction and granted the request in part on Friday.
Jordan noted that during Wednesday’s hearing, clinic attorneys said the facility would continue to seek hospital admitting privileges. He wrote that he blocked penalties because the clinic had shown it would face ‘‘irreparable injury’’ if criminal prosecution or civil penalties were possible if the clinic did not obtain the privileges quickly.
Supporters of the law said it is designed to protect patients, and Bryant has said he hopes it will help make Mississippi ‘‘abortion-free.’’
Republican state Representative Sam Mims, who sponsored the law, said he is also pleased Jordan allowed the law to take effect. ‘‘I am confident that the new legislation will result in the improvement of health care for women,’’ Mims said.