On Tuesday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit blocked a law that would have shut down Mississippi’s only abortion clinic in Jackson Women’s Health Organization v. Currier.
Mississippi passed the law in 2012, requiring abortion providers to obtain hospital admitting privileges. The two doctors at the state’s only clinic were denied privileges at every hospital to which they applied. If the law had gone into effect, the clinic would have been forced to close.
In a 2-1 decision, the Fifth Circuit agreed with the lower court that Mississippi’s law would likely impose an undue burden on a woman’s right to decide whether to have an abortion. This means that the law cannot be enforced against the clinic while the litigation continues.
The state had argued that women in Mississippi could still travel outside the state to receive abortion care. Judge E. Grady Jolly rejected this argument, writing for the majority, “Mississippi may not shift its obligation to respect the established constitutional rights of its citizens to another state.”
This is great news for the women of Mississippi, but the fight is far from over. Just last month, neighboring Louisiana enacted a law modeled after the one in Mississippi, and similar restrictions continue to be passed across the country.
Such laws, known as Targeted Regulations of Abortion Providers or “TRAP” laws, are not medically necessary. In fact, they are opposed by the American Medical Association and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Providers already have plans in place for the rare case of an emergency. The laws are politically motivated and written to prevent women from accessing safe and legal abortion care.
I heard Dr. Willie Parker, one of the Mississippi providers, testify earlier this month before the Senate Judiciary Committee in support of the Women’s Health Protection Act, which would make it clear that laws like Mississippi’s are unlawful. As he put it in his written testimony: “[P]eople will ask, ‘Why do you do it?’ The answer is, I want for women what I want for myself: a life of dignity, health, self-determination, and the opportunity to excel and contribute. We know that when women have access to abortion, contraception, and medically accurate sex education, they thrive. It should be the same for all women, no matter where they live. The ability to live the life you imagine should not be limited by your zip code.”
The Fifth Circuit’s decision is an important step towards that goal, but there is still a long way to go.