By Robbie Ward
Starkville, Mississippi (Reuters) - Mississippi's House of Representatives passed a bill on Tuesday seeking to mandate stiffer regulations for abortion facilities in the state.
Approved by 80-37, the bill would require doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges at a local hospital and be board certified or eligible in obstetrics and gynecology.
While supporters of the bill said it was aimed at providing better health care for women, abortion rights supporters called the legislation a "red herring" crafted with a view toward closing the state's only clinic that provides abortions.
The Senate faces a deadline in the next few weeks to vote on the bill.
Conservative Mississippi lawmakers have long sought to limit abortion rights in the state, highlighted by the fight over the so-called "personhood" amendment to the state constitution last year.
The amendment, which sought to define a fertilized egg as a human being, failed in a statewide referendum last November.
Mississippi currently has only one facility that provides abortions, Jackson Women's Health Organization.
Diane Derzis, who owns the clinic, said she saw the legislation approved Tuesday as part of an effort to close her clinic through tough restrictions.
"We're not going to leave the women of Mississippi high and dry," Derzis said, vowing to fight the legislation through the courts if necessary.
Only one of the three physicians who provide abortions at the Jackson clinic has admitting privileges at a local hospital. But all three of the doctors are board certified in obstetrics and gynecology, Derzis said
Admitting privilege is the association of a doctor with a hospital's medical staff, giving the doctor the right to admit a patient to that facility.
Many Mississippi hospitals have refused to grant admitting privileges to physicians who provide abortions, Derzis said. She declined to say which hospital has an admitting agreement with one of the doctors at her clinic, citing a fear of protesters at the hospital.
Mississippi is among a number of states which have passed restrictions on abortion providers or on abortion itself since the Republican sweep in the 2010 midterm elections.
(Editing by Tom Brown and Greg McCune)