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Mississippi asks US Supreme Court to let blocked law on abortion-clinic doctors take effect

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JACKSON, Mississippi — Mississippi is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to let it enforce an abortion law that had been declared unconstitutional by a lower court.

In papers filed Wednesday, state Attorney General Jim Hood asked the nation's highest court to overturn a ruling handed down last year by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Republican Gov. Phil Bryant signed a law in 2012 requiring physicians at the only abortion clinic in Mississippi to obtain privileges to admit patients to a nearby hospital.

The law is similar to one enacted in several other states. Supporters say such laws protect women's health, but opponents say complications from abortion are rare and hospitals are already required to admit emergency patients.

The only abortion clinic in Mississippi, Jackson Women's Health Organization, sued to try to block the law in 2012. A federal district judge let the law take effect but stopped the state from closing the clinic while physicians there applied for admitting privileges at Jackson-area hospitals.

Clinic owner Diane Derzis has said the clinic's physicians, who travel from other states, have been unable to obtain privileges. Some hospitals won't grant them to out-of-state doctors, and some religious-affiliated hospitals won't associate with physicians who work at abortion clinics.

The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in July that the admitting-privileges law could block access in Mississippi to a constitutionally protected medical procedure by closing the only abortion clinic in the state.

In his appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday, Hood wrote that the 5th Circuit decision "effectively places the clinic beyond the regulatory reach of the state."

Hood, a Democrat, also wrote: "Mississippi was one of many states to enact an admitting privileges requirement for abortion doctors, but there are two important distinctions in Mississippi: for several years Mississippi had already required doctors performing outpatient procedures other than abortion to hold admitting privileges, and Mississippi currently has only one licensed abortion clinic, which complains that it cannot comply with a rational health and safety regulation."

Nancy Northup is president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, a New York-based group that helped the Mississippi clinic sue to block the admitting-privileges law. Northup said in a statement Wednesday that there's no reason for the U.S. Supreme Court to consider the Mississippi appeal.

"This law is an underhanded attempt by anti-choice politicians to close the state's only abortion clinic," Northup said. "Mississippi cannot make a run around the constitutional guarantees of Roe v. Wade with a sham health and safety law."

It was not immediately clear how soon the Supreme Court will act on the state's request.

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Follow Emily Wagster Pettus on Twitter: http://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus .

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