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Mississippi's sole abortion clinic wins federal court stay

Jackson Women's Health Organization is pictured in Jackson, Mississippi, July 11, 2012. REUTERS/Emily Le Coz
Jackson Women's Health Organization is pictured in Jackson, Mississippi, July 11, 2012. REUTERS/Emily Le Coz

(Reuters) - Mississippi's only abortion clinic was granted a temporary reprieve from closure on Monday when a federal judge blocked enforcement of a state law that required its doctors to have the right to admit patients to local hospitals.

The Jackson Women's Health Organization faced a state license revocation hearing on Thursday because its doctors had not been able to comply with the 2012 law - which the clinic's supporters say was imposed to shut the facility down.

Pro-abortion campaigners say the law imposed arbitrary and medically unnecessary requirements to target the clinic. Supporters of the state law have said they hoped it would improve patient care.

Several U.S. states have a single clinic that performs abortions. Mississippi, which has some of the strictest abortion laws in the country, would have been the first to have none.

The Jackson clinic has been Mississippi's sole abortion provider since 2002.

Mississippi is one of several states that require abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at local hospitals.

The clinic had sued Mississippi in June 2012 over the law, winning a temporary injunction from U.S. District Judge Daniel P. Jordan III, who stopped the state from penalizing the clinic while the doctors asked the hospitals for admitting privileges.

Only one of the clinic's doctors holds admitting privileges and the two who provide the vast majority of abortions do not.

The clinic sought another injunction in November after the doctors' requests for privileges were rejected at every local hospital because they perform elective abortions. Two hospitals refused even to give them applications.

The state later indicated that it would revoke the clinic's license after a hearing on April 18, forcing the closing of the clinic, the judge said in the opinion released on Monday.

Jordan enjoined Mississippi from enforcing the admitting privileges requirement while the clinic's lawsuit proceeds.

"While the women of Mississippi may be able to breathe a collective sigh of relief today, this fight is far from over," Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, which represents the clinic, said in a statement.

Anti-abortion activists have increasingly turned toward enacting new restrictions at the state level to the procedure, which was made legal nationally by the U.S. Supreme Court's 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade.

Last month North Dakota adopted the nation's most restrictive law, effectively banning most abortions once a fetal heartbeat can be detected, or about six weeks into pregnancy.

(Reporting by David Bailey in Minneapolis; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

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