A federal judge in Mississippi partly lifted a barrier on a law on Friday that would put new restrictions on the state’s sole abortion clinic. But he blocked parts of the law that could expose the clinic to criminal or civil penalties while it tried to come into compliance with the new restrictions.
The law, which the State Legislature passed in the spring, requires physicians performing abortions at a clinic to have admitting privileges at a local hospital. The two doctors who perform abortions at the state’s only clinic, in Jackson, do not have such privileges. Although they have applied to seven hospitals in the area, they have yet to hear a response.
The clinic sued the state, and on July 1, the day the law was to take effect, Judge Daniel P. Jordan III of United States District Court temporarily blocked the measure. The judge held a hearing on Wednesday to decide whether to keep the law blocked.
The state argued that the hold should be lifted because the administrative process for carrying out a new law can take up to six months, during which the clinic would be allowed to operate as it tried to come into compliance.
Lawyers for the clinic responded that during that administrative process the doctors would still be breaking the law by performing abortions and could possibly face criminal prosecution, even if they later met the law’s obligations.
Judge Jordan’s decision, which addressed both concerns, did not address the fundamental constitutional dispute: whether the law is, as the clinic argues, simply a pretext to stop abortions in the state altogether. Allowing the law to take effect, the judge said on Wednesday, would allow him to see whether or not the doctors would be able to comply with its new regulations. The outcome of that process would have an impact on determining the law’s constitutionality, he said.