Mississippi's last abortion clinic at center of US debate

Protesters yell and wave signs outside Mississippi's only abortion clinic on the three or four days it is open each week.

Posted: May 22, 2021 11:34 PM

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — The bright pink building in an eclectic neighborhood of Mississippi's capital goes by different names. To the anti-abortion protesters whose demonstrations have sparked a noise ordinance, it is an “abortion mill.” To those who work and volunteer there, the facility known as the “pink house” provides the last safe haven in Mississippi for women who choose to have an abortion.

Now, the only abortion clinic in Mississippi is facing what could be its biggest challenge. The U.S. Supreme Court said Monday that it will hear arguments this fall over a Mississippi law that would limit abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy — a case designed to test how far a court remade under former President Donald Trump is willing to go to restrict the right to an abortion.

The 2018 Mississippi law has been on hold because of the court fight. If justices allow it to take effect, that wouldn't have a huge impact on who can get an abortion in Mississippi. Health care providers at Jackson Women's Health Organization don't perform abortions after 16 weeks. But clinic director Shannon Brewer said upholding the ban would prompt lawmakers in conservative states to push to more restrictions.

“They’ll steadily chip away at it. And then once they know they can, they’re going to constantly do it,” Brewer said Tuesday.

As states have enacted stricter laws and the number of clinics has declined, thousands of women have crossed state lines for abortion. A 2019 analysis by The Associated Press found at least 276,000 women terminated pregnancies outside their home state between 2012 and 2017. In pockets of the Midwest, South and Mountain West, the number of women terminating a pregnancy in another state rose considerably, particularly where a lack of clinics meant the closest provider was in another state or where less restrictive policies made it easier and quicker to have an abortion there.

With no doctors in Mississippi willing to do abortions, five out-of-state doctors rotate through Jackson. Some patients travel hours from small towns in one of the poorest states of the country — first for counseling and then 24 hours later for the abortion.

One woman who has ended two pregnancies at the clinic said she has never had a moment's regret over those decisions. At the time, she was in her 30s and did what was best for herself and her young child, she said.

While at the clinic, she and the other women talked to each other as they waited. She recalled their stories: One had been raped by her own father; another had been raped by her boss; another was in medical school.

“I want women to understand that it’s OK and it’s not something that you have to feel guilty about,” she said. She spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because she’s in a court dispute with her child’s father and she believes speaking publicly about her abortions could hurt her in that case.

Outside the clinic, anti-abortion protesters face off against volunteer escorts. Demonstrators often try to block cars from entering the clinic parking lot. Some pray, sing or hold posters with graphic photos of aborted fetuses. Others climb ladders to look over a fence that surrounds the clinic, yelling at the volunteer escorts who call themselves “pink house defenders” and the patients they accompany inside.

Doug Lane, president of Pastors for Life, is a frequent presence in front of the pink building where he tries to persuade women and girls to forgo abortion. He said he and other protesters are exercising their free-speech rights and they sometimes change women's minds, directing them to a nearby crisis pregnancy center that offers ultrasounds and baby clothing.

“We have a right to be heard, even by people who disagree with us and object to us,” Lane said.

The protests outside the clinic have become a flashpoint in its Jackson neighborhood.

Two restaurants sit directly across a street from the building. Some days, protesters are silent or pray quietly to themselves. Other times, they use bullhorns that can be heard inside the restaurants, even with doors closed. Cars driving by honk in support or admonishment.

On a recent day, families at one of the restaurants ate outside at a cluster of tables no more than 20 feet (6 meters) from two children sitting silently holding signs saying, “We are ambassadors of Jesus Christ.” A woman passed back and forth praying under her breath and holding a sign: “Pray to end abortion.”

In 2019, the Jackson City Council enacted an ordinance to limit noise outside medical facilities. Some council members said their action was in response to complaints about activity outside the abortion clinic, but the city backed down and repealed the ordinance a year later after a lawsuit challenged the rule.

Nathan Glenn co-owns the two restaurants across from the clinic. He said his family has been in business there about 20 years, and when the restaurants opened he didn’t know they were near an abortion clinic. He said he respects people’s right to protest but they block the entrance to the restaurants and yell at diners.

Clinic director Brewer said all the restrictions and protests aren't going to stop abortions in Mississippi — they just serve to make it more dangerous. She said the people who oppose abortion pretend to care about the women and their future children but if they really cared, they'd spend more time taking care of children once they're born by paying for things like better health care or child care.

“It’s not going to stop abortions in Mississippi. Abortions were going on in Mississippi before Roe v. Wade,” Brewer said. “So I think that they’re not thinking it through, or they just really don’t care.”

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 512632

Reported Deaths: 10262
CountyCasesDeaths
Harrison34853555
DeSoto33162432
Hinds32556641
Jackson24830389
Rankin22442402
Lee16238242
Madison14874283
Jones14086247
Forrest13741259
Lauderdale12249324
Lowndes11286193
Lamar10644140
Pearl River9707244
Lafayette8827143
Hancock7835132
Washington7550169
Oktibbeha7204138
Monroe6989179
Pontotoc6970109
Warren6849178
Panola6746134
Neshoba6726210
Marshall6653141
Bolivar6440151
Union633897
Pike5924156
Alcorn5862107
Lincoln5525136
George510180
Prentiss500884
Tippah490282
Itawamba4829107
Scott477499
Adams4766125
Tate4748116
Leflore4723144
Copiah455895
Yazoo455591
Simpson4543117
Wayne442772
Covington432895
Sunflower4299106
Marion4265112
Coahoma4227109
Leake413790
Newton395581
Tishomingo381793
Grenada3775109
Stone365666
Jasper340166
Attala337790
Winston317792
Chickasaw313367
Clay311878
Clarke301195
Calhoun284449
Holmes271289
Smith268952
Yalobusha243747
Tallahatchie231453
Greene224749
Walthall221366
Lawrence217840
Perry213356
Amite209557
Webster205148
Noxubee188642
Montgomery181557
Carroll174441
Jefferson Davis173643
Tunica163239
Benton152639
Kemper144941
Choctaw136527
Claiborne134238
Humphreys131139
Franklin124929
Quitman107528
Wilkinson105939
Jefferson96834
Sharkey65121
Issaquena1957
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 844951

Reported Deaths: 16115
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson1161002006
Mobile741871379
Madison53279732
Shelby38325368
Baldwin38068589
Tuscaloosa36009641
Montgomery34482781
Lee25550263
Calhoun22585518
Morgan22451406
Etowah20013517
Marshall18777316
Houston17727425
St. Clair16875358
Limestone16135218
Cullman16044303
Elmore15904294
Lauderdale14968306
Talladega14189299
DeKalb12967269
Walker12020380
Blount10714192
Autauga10517157
Jackson10157194
Coffee9414192
Colbert9334208
Dale9018191
Tallapoosa7254201
Russell707765
Chilton7018170
Escambia6955143
Covington6932195
Franklin6340108
Chambers5783142
Marion5401130
Dallas5285209
Pike5118109
Clarke484986
Lawrence4826129
Winston4780110
Geneva4642136
Bibb434094
Barbour369480
Butler3434100
Marengo342393
Monroe337066
Randolph334367
Pickens333188
Fayette330085
Henry320666
Hale318189
Cherokee317563
Crenshaw260477
Washington256952
Cleburne254460
Lamar251253
Clay250869
Macon244764
Conecuh192762
Coosa184947
Lowndes178168
Wilcox177438
Bullock152645
Perry141840
Sumter139241
Greene130245
Choctaw93228
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