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'Unconstitutional' Miss. Abortion Law Has To Go


We turn now to Nancy Northup. She's the president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, which is representing the Jackson Women's Health Organization in court. This is the only abortion clinic in Mississippi, and it might have to close its doors if a new law there is upheld. If it closes, Mississippi would be the only state with no working abortion clinic. She joins me from her office in New York City. Nancy, welcome to TELL ME MORE.


HINOJOSA: So the new law says that doctors must be state-certified OB-GYNs, and that they must have admitting privileges at an area hospital. So if people hear that, they say, well, that doesn't sound unreasonable. Is it really that unreasonable?

NORTHUP: What's unconstitutional, not just unreasonable, about the law is that its intent is to close the last abortion clinic in the state of Mississippi. And the Supreme Court has made clear that laws that have the purpose of trying to put a substantial obstacle in the way of women seeking abortion services - which are legal and constitutionally protected - can't stand.

HINOJOSA: But Representative Mims says no, the intent is simply to have these kinds of clinics regulated. So how do we deal with this disconnect?

NORTHUP: Unfortunately for him, Representative Mims was quite clear in the past. When he was interviewed by Politico in April of this year he said, quote, "The intent of the legislation is to cause fewer abortions," close quote. He's been clear about the intent. The governor was clear about the intent, and so that is what the court is going to look at in saying that this law can't stand.

HINOJOSA: But having fewer abortions, or that fewer abortions are taking place is basically what people on both sides have been saying that they want, right? Reduce the number of abortions. So where's the problem, then?

NORTHUP: Well, the problem is that if this law were about health and safety, he would not be saying it's about fewer abortions. The reason that he's saying the intent is fewer abortions is because they're seeking to close this clinic down. And that is of a piece of a strategy throughout the nation from anti-choice groups who are using these pretexts, these laws that pretend to be about one thing, but what they're really about is blocking women's access to their constitutional right to have a safe abortion.

HINOJOSA: So is the whole issue that the wording just gets confusing and then people are not clear? I mean, is that what you're basically saying, that there's just an element of confusion that's going on here with these kinds of laws that are popping up and appear to be restrictive? But they're saying no, no, no, it's just about regulation.

NORTHUP: If they feel that every doctor in the state of Mississippi should have admitting privileges in a hospital, OK. Pass that broad law that will apply to all doctors in the state. If they think all OB-GYNs in the state should have admitting privileges to the hospitals, that's another thing.

This is designed specifically. They know that the doctors are coming from out of state because of the hostility towards abortion services in the state of Mississippi. And they know that, in this hostile atmosphere in Mississippi, the hospitals can turn them down - not because of anything in the doctor's background. I mean, these are very well-qualified physicians. No. They can turn them down because they just choose to. And, in fact, that was the whole intent of the law.

These doctors have not been able to obtain privileges yet, and that's because everybody knew they wouldn't be able to. That was the whole point of this bill.

HINOJOSA: So when the Representative Mims says, hey, this clinic has had 70 days to comply, they're just not complying, you say what?

NORTHUP: That this clinic has tried. The doctors have tried to comply with the law. They have applied to get admitting privileges. But it was known that they wouldn't be able to do this, and, in fact, it was Representative Mims who made sure that they would try to be shut down at the beginning of July because the state was going to follow their normal rulemaking process, which is they don't put a law like this into effect until they go through the procedures, which would have been probably about mid-August. But no: The push was to have this done right away, when they knew it was going to be unable for them to get the admitting privileges in that time.

HINOJOSA: Help us put this case into context. If, in fact, this law goes forward and the only abortion clinic in Mississippi closes, what does it mean?

NORTHUP: That is a huge, huge strike, not just the rights of women in Mississippi, but to their health and safety, because, as you pointed out, it is almost three hours to the nearest abortion clinic in states surrounding Mississippi, and we're talking about a population that's served by this clinic that is often very low-income. They have substantial responsibilities. It is not an easy task to travel out of state, have to spend one or two days there and then come back. So it is a huge setback for the women in Mississippi. It's a setback for their health, and the Supreme Court has made clear governments can't do this to women's health and rights.

HINOJOSA: So we posed the same question to Representative Mims, and now I want to pose it to you: How do you think the courts will rule?

NORTHUP: Well, we feel very solid in both the facts of this case, the clear record that the intent of this law is to block access to abortion services, and the Supreme Court has made clear that you can't do that. So we are confident that we have a very strong case here that the court should enjoin this law and let this clinic stay open.

HINOJOSA: Nancy Northup is the president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights. That's the organization representing Mississippi's sole abortion clinic.

Nancy, thanks again for being here.

NORTHUP: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.