JACKSON, Miss. – Mississippi's only abortion clinic was open Monday after a federal judge temporarily blocked a law from being enforced that the clinic says could regulate it out of business.
The owner of Jackson Women's Health Organization said it was "business as usual" and the clinic's two physicians will continue to see patients and do abortions unless a court orders them to stop.
"Mississippi is still part of this country and still does have to abide by the Constitution," Diane Derzis told reporters inside the clinic as several abortion opponents prayed and sang hymns outside.
U.S. District Judge Daniel Jordan issued a temporary restraining order Sunday to stop Mississippi from enforcing a law requiring any physician doing abortions at the clinic to be an OB-GYN with privileges to admit patients to a local hospital. The order came the same day the law was to take effect.
Because of the judge's order, the state Health Department canceled an inspection it originally planned to do Monday to see if the clinic is complying with the new law, a department spokeswoman said.
The two physicians who do abortions at the clinic have applied for hospital privileges but haven't been granted them. Derzis said she doesn't expect them to be given the access, partly because she believes hospitals don't want abortion protesters outside on their sidewalks.
The clinic filed a federal lawsuit June 27, challenging the law's constitutionality under Roe v. Wade, the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision that established a nationwide right to abortion. The lawsuit also says the admitting privileges requirement is not medically necessary.
Derzis said that since she took over the clinic in 2010, no patient has been taken from there directly to a hospital. She said a local physician who doesn't do abortions at the clinic has been available to meet patients at a hospital, if necessary.
Republican Gov. Phil Bryant has said he believes the new law will protect women's health. He has also said he wants Mississippi to be "abortion-free."
Jordan will hear arguments July 11 about issuing an injunction to extend his block of the law.
Derzis said the clinic was busier than usual last week because some patients thought they wouldn't be able to get an abortion in Mississippi if the new law were in effect starting this week. She said the patients were "absolutely aware" of the law.
"They were insistent that they been seen," she said.
Neither of the physicians who do abortions at the clinic was working Monday, but Derzis said that was normal for the first day of the business week. Clinic employees were taking calls from prospective patients.
With temperatures above 90 degrees, some abortion opponents carried large umbrellas for shade as they stood Monday outside the clinic in the Fondren neighborhood. Among them were members of the groups Pro-Life Mississippi and Personhood Mississippi.
Some carried signs with slogans such as "Let us help you love your baby" and "It's easy to be pro 'choice' when you're not the one being killed."
One of the abortion opponents was Melissa Steen, 25, who lives in the Jackson suburb of Pearl.
Steen she had an abortion at the clinic in August 2007, when she was in an abusive relationship. She said her boyfriend threatened to hurt her unless she ended the pregnancy. Now, Steen said, she goes to the clinic often to try to persuade women not to have abortions.
"It's something that I live with, but I regret it," Steen said. "Sometimes at night, I will go outside and sit in my driveway and look at the stars and cry."
The abortion opponents prayed and sang "We Shall Overcome" and hymns such as "Amazing Grace" and "It Is Well With My Soul." They could be seen and heard through the tinted windows as Derzis talked to reporters.
"This is life in America for a woman seeking an abortion now," Derzis said inside the clinic's waiting area. "It's not just Jackson, Miss. These here may be a little crazier than some other places. But this is the reality of a patient having an abortion in this country today, is she is going to most likely cross a picket line. She is going to be screamed at, harassed."