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In Mississippi, a new push to end abortion

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Mississippi got a lot of attention last year for its voter referendum on a “personhood amendment.” That measure would have declared life as beginning at fertilization, effectively outlawing abortion in the process. The voter referendum failed by a large margin. So now, Mississippi legislators are moving forward on another plan to end abortion in the state.

Earlier Tuesday, the Mississippi House passed House Bill 1390, which would require all abortion providers to have admitting privileges at a local hospital. Right now, Mississippi has one abortion clinic in Jackson. It does not have a local doctor on staff, instead relying on abortion providers who fly in. Abortion-rights advocates say it’s unclear whether they would be able to find a doctor with the credentials required by this new law. If they can’t, and this bill becomes law, Mississippi’s one abortion clinic would close.

And that’s pretty much the point of the bill. As Mississippi Public Broadcasting’s Jeffrey Hess recently reported, Gov. Phil Bryant wants “Mississippi to be abortion free.” This law could be one way to get there.

House Bill 1390 also represents a larger, national shift in the type of abortion restrictions that states pass: laws that limit the supply of doctors, instead of demand for the procedure. “Early approaches to restricting abortion access were directed largely at patients — the demand side of the market,” Baruch College’s Theodore Joyce wrote recently in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Increasingly, however, laws have targeted the supply-side of abortion: the doctors. Both Kansas and Virginia passed stringent new licensing standards for abortion clinics last year. The Kansas regulation requires procedure rooms of at least 150 square feet and janitorial space of 50 square feet. Dressing rooms for patients must have a toilet, washing station and storage for clothing. Virginia has required abortion clinics to comply to hospital standards, which often means widening hallways and expanding procedure rooms.

Those laws tend to be effective at reducing the number of abortions in a state. Joyce found as much in Texas: after the state put new restrictions on all clinics performing abortions after 16 weeks in 2004, those procedures decreased by 88 percent in the course of one year.

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