Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant.
A federal appeals court in New Orleans heard arguments Monday in a challenge to a Mississippi law that would force the state’s the last abortion clinic to close.
The Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which runs the clinic, sued and prevented the law from going into effect when it was originally introduced in two years ago. Now the case is before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit.
“It seems to me you’ve got a steep hill to climb when you say the only clinic in the state is closing,” Judge E. Grady Jolly told attorney Paul Barnes, who is defending the law as a part of the Mississippi Attorney General’s Office.
Barnes argued that the law was legitimate, and a “constitutional exercise of state power,” the Associate Press reports.
Barnes told judges that the Supreme Court has held that the Constitution guarantees access to an abortion, but not an “unsafe one.” He said that the law is designed to ensure the health and safety of Mississippi women, because it requires that physicians who perform over 10 abortions per year must be certified in obstetrics and gynecology and have admitting privileges at area hospitals, the National Journal reported.
The Jackson Women’s Health clinic has so far been unsuccessful in attempting to meet the requirements. According to Diane Derzis, owner of the clinic, no hospitals in the area will accept them.
“We applied to every hospital — eight to 10 of them,” she said. “The Catholic hospital turned us down immediately. The rest took a while, but turned us down without looking at the physicians. They put in writing that they were unable to handle the public press from this; they were upfront about it. It’s clear the politics prevailed with this whole thing.”
Opponents of the law have argued that its true goal is to stop abortion in the state of Mississippi, and have pointed out that Gov. Phil Bryant supports the law and has a longstanding record of attempting to restrict abortion access. Although representatives from his office did not immediate respond to BuzzFeed’s request for comment, Bryant has been upfront with his intention to sign the law, saying that he wants to “make Mississippi abortion-free.” He also supported and signed a bill that banned abortion after 20 weeks.
However, in Court on Monday Barnes stressed that Gov. Bryant has said that the law in question was about protecting women’s health, the Associate Press reports.
The Center for Reproductive Rights, based in New York, says that admitting privileges do not protect women. The center’s director, Bebe Anderson told the Associated Press that “admitting privileges requirements aren’t needed in order to protect women’s health.”
“In fact, [admitting privileges] are harmful to women’s health because they cause good abortion providers to be unable to provide the services,” said Anderson. “And, as we’ve seen in Texas, they cause clinics to close.”
Mississippi had the highest teen birth rate in 2010 and the second highest in 2011, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The National Journal reported that the state saw 50.2 births per 1,000 women ages 15 to 19, which makes it five-tenths of a point behind Arkansas.
This story has been updated to include quotes from the Court hearing.