Mississippi’s ‘pink house’ ground zero in U.S. abortion rights fight By Reuters
By Gabriella Borter
JACKSON, Mississippi (Reuters) – For eight years, Derenda Hancock drove women from their cars to the gates of Mississippi’s only abortion clinic, donning a rainbow vest as she shields them from protesters waving religious brochures and shouting “come back!” megaphone.
Hancock, a 62-year-old part-time waitress, has grown accustomed to repeated attempts by lawmakers and anti-abortion activists to block access to abortions at the Jackson Women’s Health Organization, where she heads the clinic’s volunteer escorts.
But the future of that access looks threatened like never before after the U.S. Supreme Court placed the noisy clinic block at the center of the country’s controversial abortion rights debate.
The court agreed on Monday to review Mississippi’s attempt to ban most abortions after 15 weeks’ gestation, a Republican-backed measure passed in direct challenge to the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion in all the countries.
The court’s new conservative 6-3 majority, which is not expected to rule on the case until next year, could decide to weaken or overturn the ruling, which establishes a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy before the fetus is viable, usually between 24 and 28 weeks.
The Jackson Women’s Health Organization, known locally as the “Pink House” for its bubble-gum-colored paint, is named in the case.
“Our little suitcase here, everything hangs on it,” Hancock said, tears forming under her lavender eye shadow as she spoke of patients, some who walk hundreds of miles and raise the $ 150 needed for a first. Appointment.
“If they run over Roe, we’re done,” she said. “I know in my heart that this is the great enchilada.”
Mississippi is one of six states with a single abortion clinic. It is also one of 10 states with “trigger laws” that would effectively ban abortion without Roe v. Wade, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which supports the right to abortion.
Mississippi’s three other borders – Arkansas, Louisiana, and Tennessee – meaning a Roe overthrow could eliminate legal access to abortion for millions of women in the southern United States.
Mississippi has enacted other laws that prevent having an abortion. Women must wait at least 24 hours between their first consultation and the procedure, there are mandatory ultrasounds, minors need parental consent, and public funding through Medicaid does not cover most cases.
Jackson’s clinic was on the verge of closure before due to various restrictive laws. After the Supreme Court news broke last week, the clinic received a wave of calls from panicked patients asking if it would stay open, said its director, Shannon Brewer.
Sitting at his desk a few days later, Brewer’s eyes constantly turned to a television streaming the clinic’s security cameras. She said she couldn’t break this nervous habit: people have vandalized the property in the past and Brewer fears for the safety of staff and doctors.
“The impact that would have affected so many clinics, so many women,” Brewer said. “This one is having a huge impact across the country.”
CAUTIONARY OPTIMISM FOR ABORTION OPTIMIZERS
The Supreme Court review is a victory for anti-abortion lawmakers who have pushed hundreds of abortion restrictions through Republican-led state legislatures in recent years.
Outside the Rose House, most anti-abortion protesters said a favorable decision would not be enough.
“Ideally, I would like a constitutional amendment that recognizes the humanity of the unborn child,” said Dr. Beverly McMillan, a former Mississippi abortion provider who now opposes the procedure.
She walked the sidewalk of the clinic praying her rosary, part of a group of protesters that included street preachers playing gospel music and soft-spoken elderly women handing out prayer cards.
Allan Klein, an engineer who also prayed rosaries, said he believed removing the constitutional right to abortion was just a first step and religious reasoning was needed to prevent women from ending to their pregnancy.
“I’m more interested in people changing their minds,” he said. “At the end of the day, law enforcement won’t completely stop people from doing what they want to do.”
For LW, a 33-year-old mother of two who asked to use her initials for privacy, difficult circumstances caused her to change her stance on abortion.
A Jehovah’s Witness, she was previously opposed to abortion. But financial hardship and her battle with alcoholism played a role in her decision to have a drug abortion at eight weeks pregnant, she said.
“I struggled between ‘I don’t want to do this’ and ‘I have to do it,'” said LW, sitting in the clinic’s closed courtyard last week after a check-up.
In Mississippi, where about 20 percent of residents live in poverty, the majority of abortion patients receive financial assistance through the National Abortion Fund to cover the procedure, which can exceed $ 600. Women often still have to save for the cost of at least two trips – one for state-mandated advice and another for the procedure.
About half of women who have abortions in the United States are in poverty, according to Guttmacher’s most recent data from 2014.
LW said her experience made her more passionate about protecting abortion rights.
“No one here knows what I’m going through,” she said, hands crossed in her lap as screams and music echoed from the street.