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Federal judge allows more time for abortion clinic to comply with new law

The US District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi [official website] on Friday ordered [order text, PDF] that the state's new abortion law could take effect, but ordered that the state not prosecute the plaintiff, Jackson Women's Health Organization (JWHO) [official website], for continued operation of the clinic while it is in the process of meeting the new standards required by the law. JWHO, the state's only clinic that performs abortions, challenged the law [JURIST report] last month as an unconstitutional burden on women in the state's ability to obtain an abortion. The law requires that all doctors associated with abortion clinics have admitting and staff privileges at local hospitals, which is something only one of the three doctors performing abortions at JWHO currently have. The two that do not have these privileges are also the two doctors who perform the majority of the abortions for the clinic, as the other doctor has his own private practice. JWHO asked for a preliminary injunction against the law, which was granted [JURIST report] earlier this week. The new order modifies the injunction to protect JWHO from prosecution and civil liability if it continues to operate while in the process of obtaining privileges, and grants immunity for as long as the doctors are making an effort to comply with the law. The court noted however that this is a "fluid situation" because no one knows for sure whether or not these doctors will be able to obtain the required privileges, and "resolution of that issue will impact the ultimate issues in this case."

Abortion rights has been an ongoing issue in the US, even after the Supreme Court's 1973 ruling in Roe v. Wade [opinion text] declaring that women had a constitutional right to obtain abortions. Earlier this month, the Guttmacher Institute [official website] released a report [JURIST report] showing that the number of states enacting laws hostile to abortions has increased over the past decade. This increase in abortion restrictions has led to many civil rights suits. Rights groups challenged an Arizona law [JURIST report] earlier this month which prohibits abortions after 20 weeks unless there is a medical emergency. Last month, Oklahoma's attorney general appealed a ruling [JURIST report] by a federal district court invalidating the state's law requiring women to obtain an ultrasound within an hour of their abortion procedure and have a doctor explain it to them.

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