A federal judge will consider on Wednesday whether Mississippi's last abortion clinic should remain open while it challenges a new state law that tightens requirements, or face closure if authorities are permitted to immediately enforce the measure.

U.S. District Judge Daniel P. Jordan III, who was appointed to the bench by former President George W. Bush, is set to hear arguments from representatives of the state and the clinic at a hearing in the state capital of Jackson.

At issue is a law that abortion rights advocates say is a thinly veiled attempt to ban the procedure in Mississippi. Supporters of the measure argue it is necessary to ensure women's safety.

The law, signed by Republican Governor Phil Bryant in April, requires physicians who perform abortions to be board-certified in obstetrics and gynecology, and to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital.

Doctors at the Jackson Women's Health Organization, the state's only abortion clinic, already are certified OB-GYNs, but they haven't yet been able to obtain hospital privileges.

Mississippi, which had as many as 14 abortion providers in the early 1980s, would be the only state without an abortion clinic should the facility close.

Jordan issued a temporary restraining order on July 1 to block the state from applying the new law. If he grants a preliminary injunction based on Wednesday's hearing, the clinic would be allowed to continue providing abortions while challenging the law's constitutionality.

Clinic spokeswoman Betty Thompson said local hospitals - some of which are religiously affiliated - face tremendous pressure in the socially conservative state not to grant privileges to doctors who perform abortions.


If Jordan allows the state to begin enforcing the law, the clinic will be given some time to comply before facing license revocation. It would then be allowed to stay open while it appealed any such revocation, a process that takes at least 60 days.

The Jackson Women's Health Organization argued in court documents filed ahead of the hearing that the law "is motivated by a desire to close down the clinic and end abortion in the state, in defiance of the Constitution and with a disregard for the rights of individuals."

The state said the measure protects women's health by ensuring doctors have the credentials necessary to perform the procedures and access to hospitals in case of complications, court documents show.

The state also said it had "substantial reason for concern" about the health and safety record of the Jackson clinic, noting that another abortion clinic run by owner Diane Derzis had its license revoked by Alabama health officials in April after "multiple and serious violations."

The Jackson Women's Health Organization said it was found to be in compliance with all applicable Mississippi laws after its most recent inspection in June, according to court documents.

Mississippi already has some of the country's strictest abortion laws and one of the lowest abortion rates. It also has the highest teen pregnancy rate in the United States - more than 60 percent above the national average in 2010.

Thirty-nine other states say that only OB-GYNs can perform abortions, and nine others mandate hospital privileges, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit organization focusing on sexual and reproductive rights.

The Jackson Women's Health Organization opened in Mississippi in 1996. Thompson said about 2,000 women received abortions at the clinic between July 1, 2010 and June 30, 2011.