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Mississippi set to become the only state without an abortion clinic

A new law in Mississippi restricting abortion providers could force the state's only clinic to close. Critics say the law would force women to travel to other states to obtain a constitutionally protected procedure

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Health Department inspectors intend to examine the clinic Monday to see if it is complying with the new law, a department spokeswoman said. If the clinic is not in compliance — which the clinic itself acknowledges will likely be the case — it would have 10 days to file a plan to correct its shortcomings. Then, an administrative hearing would be held at least 30 days later, and there could be an unspecified time allowed for an appeal.

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The Jackson clinic sits a few miles north of the state Capitol, in a trendy neighborhood with upscale restaurants and vintage clothing stores. The nondescript building, with fading mauve paint, sits on a small hill on one of Jackson's busiest streets. A black vinyl tarp is attached to the fence leading from a parking lot to the patients' entrance, blocking most of the view from a public sidewalk where people gather several times a week to pray and protest.

Outside the clinic one day last week, at least a dozen people from a local Nazarene church sang hymns, read aloud from the Bible and prayed for an end to abortion. Among them was 51-year-old Patricia Frazier, who lives in the Jackson suburb of Clinton. Looking through an opening in the black tarp, Frazier spoke to a man who was standing by the clinic entrance. He had brought a woman to there for the counseling that state law requires at least 24 hours before an abortion can be done.

"You need me to help you with your friend?" Frazier asked over the fence.

The man, 30-year-old Girard Shirley of Jackson, smiled and slowly shook his head.

"Nah," Shirley said. "To be honest with you, I don't even know if the baby's mine, anyway."

Frazier showed Shirley a brown rubber model of a fetus at about 12 weeks' development — about the length of a grown woman's index finger. Shirley said he'd never given much thought to how that might look.

"Let her know we're here to help her — her and her baby," Frazier said.

Shirley listened and said, "Yeah, I'll talk to her."

"This is all about money. They want your money," Frazier said, nodding toward the clinic. "This help is free."

In an interview moments later, away from the people who were praying, Shirley said he had driven his friend to the clinic because she needed help and he needed gasoline money. Would he be willing to drive her out of state for an abortion if there were no clinic in Mississippi?

"I probably would take her," he said. He paused, then added: "No, I wouldn't. I got bad tires and stuff."

Two days later, Shirley said the woman he had driven to the clinic had stuck with her decision to have an abortion.

The state Health Department website shows 2,297 abortions, listed as "induced terminations," were performed in Mississippi in 2010, the most recent year for which statistics were available. The vast majority of those — 2,251 — were performed on Mississippi residents. The site does not specify how many were done at the clinic and how many in other offices or hospitals.

Mississippi physicians who perform fewer than 10 abortions a month can avoid having their offices regulated as an abortion clinic, and thus avoid restrictions in the new law. The Health Department said it doesn't have a record of how many physicians perform fewer than 10 abortions a month. Clinic operators say almost all the abortions in the state are done in their building.

The clinic says if it closes, most women would have to go out of state to terminate a pregnancy — something that could create financial problems for people in one of the poorest states in the nation. From Jackson, it's about a 200-mile drive to clinics in New Orleans; Mobile, Ala.; or Memphis, Tenn.

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