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Mississippi lawmakers approve abortion restrictions

By Robbie Ward

Starkville, Mississippi (Reuters) - Mississippi's House of Representatives on Tuesday overwhelmingly passed a bill that would tighten regulations for abortion facilities in the conservative state.

The bill, approved by a 80-37 margin in the Republican-controlled House, would require doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges at a local hospital and be board-certified or eligible in obstetrics and gynecology.

Mississippi's Senate will now consider the proposed legislation.

While supporters of the bill said it was aimed at providing better health care for women, abortion rights supporters said it was crafted with a view toward closing Jackson Women's Health Organization, the state's only abortion facility.

Only one of the three physicians who provide abortions at the clinic in Jackson has admitting privileges at a local hospital though all three are board-certified in obstetrics and gynecology, said Diane Derzis, the clinic owner.

An admitting privilege gives a doctor a right to admit a patient to a medical facility. Many Mississippi hospitals have refused to grant such privileges to doctors who provide abortions, Derzis said.

She vowed a legal challenge of the legislation if necessary.

"We're not going to leave the women of Mississippi high and dry," Derzis said.

Conservative Mississippi lawmakers have long sought to limit abortion rights. Abortion opponents last year pushed for an amendment to the state constitution that would have defined a fertilized egg as a human being. It was defeated in a statewide referendum last November.

Mississippi is among the states that have passed abortion restrictions since the 2010 elections.

(Editing by Tom Brown, Greg McCune and Paul Simao)

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