Yes, receptionists told the dozens of young women who called, they could still see a doctor about an unwanted pregnancy. But they would need to come soon.
The clinic, the Jackson Women’s Health Organization, was facing another deadline.
The clinic was scheduled to be shut on Monday because it was not in compliance with a new state law that requires doctors who perform abortions to be obstetrician-gynecologists with admitting privileges at local hospitals.
But on Sunday, a federal judge temporarily blocked enforcement pending a hearing in 11 days. Had the clinic been forced to close, Mississippi would have been the only state with no abortion clinic.
That would be cause for celebration for the anti-abortion activists who have gathered every day for years in front of the pink-walled clinic to sing hymns, recite Bible verses and try to dissuade women from having abortions.
“We already have a plan for the building,” said Ron Nederhoed, an anti-abortion protester and retired psychologist. “We’re going to turn it into a museum to honor the children who were killed.”
But it has also created a rush of women from across Mississippi wanting to have abortions. The clinic’s three doctors normally perform about 40 abortions a week, but received more than 100 calls in one day last week from women trying to schedule appointments. Two of the doctors live out of state and will fly in to perform abortions this week, said Diane Derzis, the clinic owner.
“What women are hearing is, You may not be able to have an abortion soon,” she said. “If you’re pregnant and you don’t want to be, you’re thinking, ‘By God, I’ve got to get in there fast.’ ”
In April, Mississippi became the 10th state to pass a law requiring doctors who perform abortions to have hospital privileges. The bill’s author, Representative Sam Mims, said there were two goals: reducing the number of abortions in Mississippi and assuring that abortions were performed by properly trained doctors who could take women to a hospital in an emergency.
Abortion-rights groups say the law is motivated by politics, not science. The Center for Reproductive Rights, which has challenged Mississippi’s law in court, said federal law already required hospitals to admit patients in case of an emergency.
In his order temporarily halting the law, Judge Daniel P. Jordan III of Federal District Court called the argument compelling. “Plaintiffs have offered evidence — including quotes from significant legislative and executive officers — that the act’s purpose is to eliminate abortions in Mississippi," he wrote. "They likewise submitted evidence that no safety or health concerns motivated its passage. This evidence has not yet been rebutted.”
Hospital privileges are difficult to obtain, said Elizabeth Nash, a public policy analyst for the Guttmacher Institute. Hospitals often do not want to be affiliated with controversial procedures, like abortions, and also require doctors with privileges to admit a certain number of patients a year for surgery. “This requirement does nothing to help women’s health,” she said. “There isn’t much of a motive here except to put this abortion provider out of business.”
Gov. Phil Bryant, a Republican, has said he would like to see his state be “abortion-free.”
“If it closes that clinic,” he said during the bill-signing ceremony, “then so be it.”
And the anti-abortion activists at the clinic agree. “We’ve made no secret about it: We want to protect women, but we also want to limit abortion,” said Roy McMillan, the executive director of the Christian Action Group who has protested in front of abortion clinics for 30 years.
Mississippi has several other laws that also restrict abortions. It requires women under 18 to have parents’ permission for an abortion, and requires all women to wait 24 hours and be offered to see an ultrasound of the fetus before having the procedure.
Until the judge rules, Ms. Derzis, the clinic owner, said she would continue “business as usual.”
“It’s a huge responsibility to be the only clinic in the state,” she said. “This is all that stands between a woman having to leave the state for an abortion.”
There were 2,297 abortions performed in Mississippi in 2010, according to the State Health Department. Doctors who perform fewer than 10 abortions a month are not subjected to the same regulations as clinics. But there is no record of how many of those physicians there are in the state.