Last month, while many of us were attending barbecues and counting down the hours until Memorial Day weekend, the Supreme Court of the United States was discussing whether to take up Currier v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. The case challenges a Mississippi law that requires any doctor performing abortions in the state of Mississippi to have admitting privileges at a local hospital or face criminal penalties.
A similar challenge over admitting privileges in Texas was passed over by the court last year, but all eyes are now on Mississippi because Jackson Women’s Health Organization happens to be the sole abortion clinic in the entire state, which may compel the court to intervene.
What are admitting privileges?
Some of the most underhanded abortion restrictions that are being peddled by conservative state legislatures under the guise of protecting pregnant people are admitting privileges. These laws require that abortion providers be granted permission to send patients to a nearby hospital in case there are any complications. The problem is that the process by which admitting privileges are granted is often political, unnecessary or just downright impossible.
One example of how difficult it is to obtain admitting privileges is the fact that Catholic hospitals are unlikely to grant them to providers because abortion conflicts with their religious ideology. Hospitals can also deny admitting privileges if a provider does not reside nearby, which is applicable in this particular case since Jackson Women’s Health Organization’s provider, Dr. Willie Parker, travels long distances across state lines to bring abortion access to areas in need.
Obtaining admitting privileges is also arbitrary because women often have to travel long distances to get an abortion in underserved areas in Mississippi. Adding to this cluster of impediments, an abortion provider has no control over where an ambulance will take a patient, which is usually to the closest emergency room, if complications do arise.
Perhaps the most infuriatingly backwards reason why admitting privileges are denied is because hospitals expect doctors to send at least 10 patients per year to their emergency room. However, abortion is so safe that less than 1% of patients experience complications, which means that doctors would not be able to perform abortions in Mississippi because they don’t harm enough women.
Admitting privileges add nothing to existing patient protections, but give hospitals effective veto power over whether an abortion provider can provide services.
What could this mean for Mississippi?
According to Senior Legal Analyst Jessica Mason Pieklo at RH Reality Check, the Supreme Court, if they choose to take up this case, will ultimately decide on two things: whether these abortion restrictions rationally relate to legitimate state interest of patient safety, and whether these requirements, which would shut down Mississippi’s last abortion clinic, would create an undue burden for people seeking abortion access in the state. For the restriction to be considered constitutional, both the rational basis and undue burden provisions must be upheld by the court.
Requiring admitting privileges for abortion providers with local hospitals does little to improve patient care and sets standards that are practically impossible for providers to meet. For a state with only one clinic left and a governor who has openly admitted his intentions to shut it down, Mississippi’s access to abortion hangs in the balance, and this case, if heard by the court, will be one to watch closely.