Daily Dispatches
Pro-life counselors gather outside Mississippi's last abortion facility.
Associated Press/Photo by Rogelio V. Solis
Pro-life counselors gather outside Mississippi's last abortion facility.

Last Mississippi abortionists cornered by court order

Abortion

Mississippi's only abortion facility missed a Jan. 11 deadline to comply with a 2012 state law requiring each of its physicians to get hospital admitting privileges. The state health department inspected the facility last week, but the findings are not yet public.

If inspectors find the Jackson Women's Health Organization (JWHO) out of compliance, the state Health Department won't immediately close the doors because the facility has the option to appeal.

But the facility's latest infraction brings it one step closer to closure.

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The new law requires anyone doing abortions to be an OB-GYN with privileges to admit patients to a hospital near the facility where the abortions are done. The facility filed a lawsuit last summer opposing the law. U.S. District Judge Daniel P. Jordan III gave the facility time to try to comply with the requirement, temporarily blocking any criminal or civil penalties.

One of the facility's four physicians has admitting privileges, but the clinic claimed in court papers he does little work at the facility and had the privileges before the new law took effect last July. The other three don't have privileges.

Diane Derzis, the facility’s owner, said every Jackson-area hospital where the abortionists applied for privileges said no. 

"They were clear that they didn't deal with abortion, and they didn't want the internal or the external pressure of dealing with it," Derzis said.

Another factor may have been the history of violations at Derzis' facilities. In 2011, Alabama officials shut down another Derzis-owned abortion facility in Birmingham, New Women All Women, after charging it with a variety of health and safety violations, according to Life Site News.

Former JWHO abortionist, Joseph Booker, also sued Derzis in 2011 after she fired him. He alleged it was because he objected to her insistence on using staff not professionally trained to do ultrasound examinations, his refusal to administer RU-486 using methods not approved by the FDA, and other problems.

Republican Gov. Phil Bryant has said repeatedly he wants Mississippi to be abortion-free: "My goal, of course, is to shut it down."

In November, the facility asked Jordan to extend its time to comply with the law. Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood filed a 35-page response on Jan. 11, the deadline for gaining admitting privileges, saying the law should take full effect because it was designed to protect patients' safety.

"Two federal circuit courts have expressly found that 'admitting privileges at local hospitals and referral arrangements with local expert' are 'so obviously beneficial to patients' undergoing abortions as to easily withstand a facial constitutional challenge alleging them to be undue burdens," Hood wrote.

No hearing has been set for Jordan to consider the competing requests.

The facility is about two miles north of the state Capitol building, in a trendy neighborhood with restaurants, art galleries and clothing stores. It's a nondescript mauve building separated from a street by an iron fence woven with heavy black vinyl.

Outside the building recently, small groups of people prayed, sang hymns and tried to talk to women as they entered or left.

"Any county you're from, there is help available for you folks," Cal Zastrow of Jackson called out to a woman as she walked to her car.

Tanya Britton, spokesman for Pro-Life Mississippi, told me that area churches are in the midst of a 40-day prayer vigil outside JWHO. She said the organization has had “ample” time to comply with the law and the state should proceed with the process as quickly as possible. 

Mississippi pro-lifers have targeted abortion facilities since the 1980s, she said: “We started with 10, and now we’re down to one.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Les Sillars
Les Sillars

Les directs the journalism program at Patrick Henry College in Purcellville, Va., and is the editor of WORLD's Mailbag section.

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