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Mississippi’s Lone Abortion Clinic Is Still Open And Still Controversial

Protesters clashed Tuesday outside the Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the only abortion clinic in Mississippi, which won a victory in federal court that allows the facility to continue to operate, at least for now.

The legal victory for the clinic came Monday when U.S. District Judge Daniel Jordan III temporarily blocked a state law that requires all the doctors at the facility to have admitting privileges at a local hospital. The judge is preventing the law from taking effect until a legal challenge against it is settled.

Outside the clinic in the state capital of Jackson, abortion rights supporters in yellow “clinic escort” vests  helped women into the facility as anti-abortion protesters called to the patients begging them not to have the procedure.

The ruling is a big letdown for anti-abortion protestors like Cal Zastrow who wants to see the clinic closed. He compared abortions to the deaths caused by Monday’s attack at the Boston Marathon.

“I am very disheartened that some people feel they need to murder children with bombs and ball bearings and also with surgical abortion,” Zastrow said. “That is disheartening to me. That some people dehumanize other people and commit acts of terrorism on them.”

Supporters of the clinic played music and tried to shield the women from the shouts of the protesters.

Abortion rights supporter Drenda Hancock says she is energized by the ruling.

“I was actually here when we found out. Posted it the minute we got home. It is fantastic. I am thrilled. We are having a party see? It is great,” Hancock said.

The clinic was facing a Thursday hearing which would have likely resulted in the state pulling its license, since not all the clinic doctors were able to get admitting privileges. That hearing is now canceled.

In his ruling, Jordan wrote, “The State has plainly informed the Clinic that it will be closed pursuant to a statue that appears to fail the undue-burden test … considering this, and the other articulated and unrebutted harms, the Court concludes that the irreparable injuries alleged are sufficiently imminent to justify preliminary injunctive relief at this time.”

Clinic ownership has said repeatedly that every hospital in the area has rejected, or ignored, their requests for admitting privileges.

The Center for Reproductive Rights, a national organization, filed a lawsuit against the admitting privileges law claiming it is an unconstitutional attempt to ban abortion. The law is on hold while the suit challenging it goes forward.

The law’s author, state Rep. Sam Mims, R-McComb, says he is not sure what the state’s next step will be.

“The governor feels very strongly about this piece of legislation. So we will just have to see over the next couple days what happens next,” Mims said.

The main lawyer for the clinic is less uncertain. Michelle Movahed with the Center for Reproductive Rights expects a permanent ruling within a month.

“The Supreme Court precedent is pretty clear here. And I think what the judge did is apply what the Supreme Court has said over and over and over. Which is that states can’t functionally block women’s access to abortion care,” Movahed said.

It is not clear when the next court date for the lawsuit against the state law will be. Until then, the clinic is allowed to remain open.

This story is part of a collaboration that includes Mississippi Public Broadcasting, NPR and Kaiser Health News.