The bitter truth about Mississippi’s abortion law

The one health clinic in the state of Mississippi that performs abortions remains open this week only after a US District Court judge temporarily barred the state from enforcing a law that requires doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a local hospital. Had the temporary order not been issued, state health department inspectors would have arrived at the Jackson Women’s Health Organization on Monday in order to shut the clinic down for noncompliance. As a result, Mississippi would have become the first state to ban abortion, which was clearly the ultimate goal of those who sponsored the measure.
The new law requires all doctors performing abortions at a Mississippi clinic to be certified in obstetrics and gynecology, as well as to have admitting privileges at a local hospital. While the two physicians who perform abortions at the clinic are certified in obstetrics and gynecology, they do not have admitting privileges at a local hospital, even though they have applied for those privileges from at least six hospitals since May. Sponsors of this legislation were well aware that hospitals are not likely to grant these physicians admitting privileges. Hospital administrators do not want to deal with the publicity of anti-abortion protesters marching on their property.
Lawmakers and politicians in favor of the new law, including numerous legislators and Governor Phil Bryant, have made it very clear that their intent is to outlaw abortion in the state of Mississippi. According to Nancy Northup, President and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, an organization that is helping the clinic in its fight to remain open, “The opponents of reproductive rights in the Mississippi Legislature have made no secret of their intent to make legal abortion virtually disappear in the state of Mississippi. Their hostility toward women, reproductive health care providers and the rights of both would unquestionably put the lives and health of countless women at risk of grave harm” (NY Times).
Interestingly, what you will not hear as part of this ongoing debate are the statistics regarding poverty, abuse, and neglect in the state of Mississippi. Those who are so adamant that every pregnancy be carried to term seem to lose interest in what happens after the delivery. Mississippi continues to have the highest teen birth rate in the country, with 55 births per 1000 women aged 15-19 (Centers for Disease Control). According to the Child Welfare League of America, 22.4% of Mississippi residents live below the poverty level. The poverty rate for children under 18 in the state is 32.5%, and the poverty rate for children under five is 38.6% (CWLA). If legislators were truly concerned about child welfare, these are the issues they would be addressing:
• In 2010, Mississippi had 28,666 total referrals for child abuse and neglect. Of those, 19,976 reports were referred for investigation.
• In 2010, 7,968 children were victims of abuse or neglect in Mississippi, a rate of 10.4 per 1,000 children, representing a 1.1% increase from 2009. Of these children, 68.4% were neglected, 21.0% were physically abused, and 13.2% were sexually abused.
• The number of child victims has increased 27.0% in comparison to the number of victims in 2006.
• In 2010, 17 children in Mississippi died as a result of abuse or neglect.
• In 2010, 3,582 children in Mississippi lived apart from their families in out-of-home care, compared with 3,320 children in 2009. In 2010, 1,357 of the children living apart from their families were age 5 or younger, and 701 were 16 or older.
• The number of children living apart from their families in out-of-home care has increased 14.6% in comparison to the number of children in out-of-home care in 2006 (CWLA).
If lawmakers are going to insist that every pregnancy be carried to term, they need to follow through and do more to provide for the well-being of every child born in their state.

Diane DeBella

As a writer, teacher, and speaker Diane has spent over twenty years examining women’s issues. She is the author of the collective memoir *I Am Subject: Sharing Our Truths to Reclaim Our Selves*, and editor of the anthology *I Am Subject Stories: Women Awakening*. As a long-time faculty member at the University of Colorado, she received the CU Women Who Make a Difference Award and the CU-LEAD Alliance Faculty Appreciation Award. Through her organization I Am Subject, Diane helps us understand how we—as women—are impacted by the society in which we live. By claiming ourselves as subjects of our own lives, we become empowered and also provide strong role models for other women and girls. In healing ourselves we help others—a beautiful way for women to create nurturing, supportive communities.

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