Mississippi Abortion Law Threatens Reproductive Rights, Democratic Unity
On July 1, a law took effect in Mississippi mandating that all abortion providers in the state be certified obstetrician/gynecologists with privileges at local hospitals.
It sounds like a flawless measure, designed to make getting an abortion as safe for Mississippi women as it can be. But that’s before you take into account the social-political leanings of most Mississippians. The state is known for its population of conservatives, particularly those whose views are informed by a stringently anti-choice religious background. The fact that there is exactly one abortion clinic, the Jackson Women’s Health Organization, in the entire state, is proof enough of that. As a result, most physicians in Mississippi willing to perform abortions come from out of state - and aren’t automatically granted the practicing privileges the new law requires that they have.
This new law left the clinic at serious risk of being shut down. Last Friday however, Federal Judge Daniel Jordan ruled that the clinic's physicians could continue to perform the procedure.
Jordan deserves commendation for recognizing the law's danger to the rights of Mississippi women, and for helping to preserve consistency of American freedoms across fifty states. The situation would be no different if Mississippi legislators had decided to legalize the consumption of alcohol for minors, provided it was done under parental supervision. It would directly contradict a law meant to be enforced equally across America, just as this law defies the national stipulation that abortions be legal, safe, and reasonably accessible for all American women.
Mississippi politicians have made no attempt to disguise the fact that such legislative secession is precisely their intention. In fact, Governor Phil Bryant called the measure “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 and his political allies want to put an end to a right that is otherwise guaranteed nationwide.
But this is a dangerous game to play in the United States, as history clearly demonstrates. When America first gained its independence, the young nation operated not as one entity under the Constitution, but as independent states in loose partnership under the Articles of Confederation. That set-up fell apart pretty fast - a country simply could not function with so much internal discrepancy - and hence we arrived at our current system of government.
The next time states' rights took center stage was in the mid-nineteenth century, when the debate over slavery got heated. Not long after, a president was assassinated and the nation was torn apart by civil war. Again, national consistency proved itself better for the preservation of democratic unity in the United States.
Perhaps we are a long way off from being up in arms (at least literally) over the abortion question. But the rights of citizens, reproductive and otherwise, should never be taken lightly. The state of Mississippi is welcome to pass laws protecting the health of women choosing to get abortions - but not by taking that nationally protected choice away.
Reach Contributor Francesca Bessey here.