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Law could force Mississippi's only abortion clinic to close

By Rich Phillips, CNN
June 30, 2012 -- Updated 2250 GMT (0650 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • State law that goes into effect Sunday could close Mississippi's only abortion clinic
  • Law requires those who perform abortions to have privileges at a local hospital
  • Owner of state's sole abortion clinic says law is meant to ban abortion
  • Sponsor of bill says purpose is to protect women's health

(CNN) -- They are here practically every day.

Anti-abortion protesters set up their signs outside the Jackson Women's Health Organization and regularly preach their beliefs to anyone who will listen. They pray the clinic will close. Their prayers may soon be answered.

Clinic owners are in a fight to save the only abortion clinic operating in the state of Mississippi. New state requirements may close their doors forever, making Mississippi the first abortion-free state.

"I want to say over my dead body, but I'm afraid," said clinic owner and president Diane Derzis.

"We're going to do whatever it takes to keep servicing the women of Mississippi," she said.

A state law that takes effect Sunday requires all of a clinic's abortion providers to be certified OB/GYN's, and all of them must have privileges at a local hospital.

July 1 brings new, sometimes quirky laws

"I think the intent is to make sure that women who are receiving these abortions are receiving abortions by a professional physician who is certified," said state Rep. Sam Mims, who sponsored the legislation.

"If something goes wrong, which it might -- we hope it doesn't, but it could -- that physician could follow the patient to a local hospital. That's the intent. And what happens afterwards, we'll have to see what happens," he told CNN.

State Rep. Sam Mims says his goal is to protect women, but if the law means fewer abortions, \
State Rep. Sam Mims says his goal is to protect women, but if the law means fewer abortions, "then that's a good thing."

Mississippi has been one of the toughest states on the abortion rights movement. The state already has laws requiring a 24-hour waiting period, as well as parental consent if the patient seeking an abortion is a minor.

"All of that is wrapped in that cloak of conservative religion," said W. Martin Wiseman, director of the Stennis Institute of Government at Mississippi State University.

"You'll find very few legislators, regardless of whether they are white, black, Democrat or Republican who will say, 'I'm pro-abortion,'" Wiseman said.

Gov. Phil Bryant signed the bill with the new requirements into law in April after the Republican-dominated legislature overwhelmingly passed it.

"It's historic. Today you see the first step in a movement, I believe, to do what we campaigned on -- to say that we're going to try to end abortion in Mississippi," Bryant said at the bill-signing event.

Bryant signs bill tightening restrictions on abortion providers

The clinic says it is trying to comply. All of its doctors are OB/GYNs who travel in from other states. But only one can practice at a local hospital. The new law states that all doctors in a clinic must have hospital privileges.

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"We're going to do whatever it takes to keep servicing the women of Mississippi," said clinic president Diane Derzis .

Officials at the Jackson clinic say they're trying to gain privileges at Jackson-area hospitals but that the cumbersome process and red tape has forced them to file suit. They've gone to federal court to try to get an injunction that would allow them to stay open while they fight the new law. The court has not yet ruled on their motion.

The Mississippi Department of Health says it will inspect the clinic on Monday for compliance. If the clinic cannot meet the new state law requirements, then it will have the right to appeal and begin an administrative process that could take several months. But, Derzis says, employees would be subject to arrest and fines of up to $2,000 a day if the clinic stays open. So, it would essentially be forced to close.

"It's an absolute tragedy," Derzis said.

"No one wants to talk about abortion. No one wants to think about abortion until they're there," she said.

"There are three reasons you have an abortion: Rape, incest and 'mine.' I hear that all the time: 'You know, I don't believe in abortion, but, now it's my kid,'" she told CNN's George Howell.

Mississippi voters reject anti-abortion initiative

But the law's sponsor says the law is about having the proper license to operate, and if that law closes the only abortion clinic in the state, then so be it.

"I'm very pro-life, Mims said. "I believe life begins at conception. And I think a lot of Mississippians do, as well. If this legislation causes less abortions, then that's a good thing."

Derzis believes that this was the real intent of the newly elected Republican majority -- to end abortion in the state, not to improve women's health care.

"I love that it's white, old men, making those statements," she said. "We've been able to be with women at a time in their lives where they are in crisis, when they need to have something done and need that support. That's why it has to be available. It has to be," she said.

"This is not about safety. This is about politics. Politics do not need to be in our uterus."

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