Mississippi women's health clinic drops challenge of state's near-ban on abortions
JACKSON, Miss. - The Mississippi abortion clinic that was at the center of the U.S. Supreme Court decision that overturned Roe v. Wade ended a lawsuit Tuesday in which it had sought to block the state from enforcing a law that bans most abortions.
Jackson Women's Health Organization dropped its litigation a day after clinic owner Diane Derzis told The Associated Press that she sold the facility and had no intention to reopen it, even if a state court allowed her to do so.
"If the clinic is not in a position to reopen in Mississippi, it no longer has a basis to pursue this case in the courts," Rob McDuff, a Mississippi Center for Justice attorney who was among those representing the clinic, said in a statement. Derzis said the clinic’s furniture and equipment have been moved to a new abortion clinic she will open soon in Las Cruces, New Mexico.
Court battles over access to abortion are playing out in multiple states following the Supreme Court's June 24 ruling, which gave states the authority to set their own laws on abortion. On Tuesday, West Virginia’s only abortion clinic resumed scheduling patients for abortions, after a judge ruled in its favor. And new restrictions on some abortions were in effect in Indiana after a judge lifted a hold on them.
FILE - View of the Jackson Women's Health Organization in Jackson, Mississippi on July 6, 2022. (SANDY HUFFAKER/AFP via Getty Images)
The Mississippi clinic — best known as the Pink House because of its bright paint job — stopped offering medication-induced and surgical abortions July 6, the day before Mississippi enacted a law that bans most abortions. Mississippi was one of several states with a trigger law that went into effect after the Supreme Court ruling.
The Mississippi trigger law, passed in 2007, says abortion is legal only if the pregnant woman’s life is in danger or if a pregnancy is caused by a rape reported to law enforcement. It does not have an exception for pregnancies caused by incest.
On July 5, a state court judge rejected a request by the clinic's attorneys to block the trigger law from taking effect. The clinic appealed the ruling to the state Supreme Court, citing a 1998 ruling that said the state constitution invokes a right to privacy that "includes an implied right to choose whether or not to have an abortion."
Because the clinic is dropping its lawsuit, the Mississippi Supreme Court will not issue a new ruling.
In West Virginia, Women's Health Center began scheduling patients for abortions for as early as next week after a judge on Monday blocked enforcement of the state’s 150-year-old abortion ban. West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey said Tuesday that his office had filed a motion to the state Supreme Court asking for a stay to keep the ban in place while his office proceeds with an appeal.
"We believe it’s critical to file for an immediate stay in light of this flawed decision and seek this emergency measure to prevent immediate loss of precious life," he said in a statement, adding that when "life is in jeopardy, no effort can be spared to protect it."
West Virginia's law, dating back to the 1800s, makes performing or obtaining an abortion a felony punishable by up to a decade in prison. It provides an exception for cases in which a pregnant person’s life is at risk. Women's Health Center argued in court that the law was void because it had not been enforced in more than 50 years, and has been superseded by modern laws, including a 2015 law that allows the procedure until the 20th week of pregnancy.
Katie Quiñonez, Women's Health Center's executive director, called the judge's decision to block the law "a sigh of relief." The clinic has been posting on social media and is sending out information in an emailed newsletter to let people know they can once again schedule abortions.
But Quiñonez said operations won’t simply go back to the way they were before the clinic had to shut down. She said the staff has been telling patients: "It’s a moving target, things could change."
In Indiana, a law that bans abortions based on gender, race or disability was in effect Tuesday, a day after a federal judge lifted an order that blocked its enforcement. The law includes a ban on abortions sought because a fetus has a genetic abnormality such as Down syndrome. It was adopted by Indiana’s Republican-dominated Legislature in 2016 and signed by then-Gov. Mike Pence. The law allows doctors who perform abortions in such cases to be sued for wrongful death.
Another federal judge has lifted similar blocks on abortion restrictions in recent weeks. The Indiana Legislature is expected to take action on additional abortion restrictions during a special session that starts Monday.
Meanwhile, an Indianapolis doctor who performed an abortion on a 10-year-old rape victim from Ohio took the first step Tuesday toward suing Indiana’s attorney general for defamation. Dr. Caitlin Bernard, an Indianapolis obstetrician-gynecologist who gave the girl a medication-induced abortion on June 30, filed a tort claim notice over what she says were false statements made about her and her work. The notice starts a 90-day period for the state to settle.
After the girl's abortion was in the news, Attorney General Todd Rokita told Fox News that he would investigate if Bernard violated any laws, though he made no specific allegations of wrongdoing.
A 27-year-old man was charged last week in Columbus, Ohio, with raping the girl.
Willingham reported from Charleston, West Virginia. Associated Press writers Tom Davies and Arleigh Rodgers in Indianapolis contributed to this report.
This story has been corrected to show that West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey’s office has filed a motion to the state Supreme Court asking for a stay to keep the state’s abortion ban in place while his office proceeds with an appeal.