We’re Mississippi’s Last Abortion Clinic, and We’re Braced for the Worst

We’ve long needed federal intervention to protect abortion rights, but it’s never been more urgent.,


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JACKSON, Miss. — I could see the pain on the patient’s face as soon as she walked through the door of the abortion clinic where I work. She was unbearably sick from pregnancy complications and had been in and out of the hospital for weeks. She had just driven almost 200 miles to reach us because there are so few abortion clinics in the South. Like most of the patients who come through my clinic, she thought she’d be able to get an abortion that day.

I had to tell her that under Mississippi law, patients like her cannot get an abortion on their first visit to a clinic. Instead, they have to sit through state-mandated “counseling” — visits that can take several hours. Then they have to come back another day to get the pills for their medication abortion or have their procedure. Often, patients are not able to make that second appointment until the following week or later because we’re booked up or because they can’t make arrangements for child care or get time off work again.

The patient pleaded with me through tears, as many do. She did not understand why such laws exist. “Baby, I don’t make the laws,” I told her. “But we have to follow them or we’ll get shut down.”

In fact, those layers of state restrictions were working against her just as lawmakers had intended — pushing abortion out of reach, especially for those struggling to make ends meet. I watched her walk out after “counseling,” not knowing if I’d see her again. She made it back to get her abortion the next week, but not all patients do.

For 20 years now, I’ve been working at Jackson Women’s Health Organization — which we affectionately call the Pink House because it’s painted bubble gum pink. It was difficult for women to get an abortion when I started in 2001, but I had no idea just how bad things would get. We are now the only abortion clinic remaining in Mississippi.

Three weeks ago, it became clear that things could soon get a whole lot worse.

When Mississippi’s Legislature passed a ban on almost all abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy in 2018, I was outraged but not worried. This ban is plainly unconstitutional under Roe v. Wade, the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that said that states cannot ban abortion before a fetus is viable outside the womb, typically around 23 weeks of pregnancy at the earliest. So we sued the state — as we have before — and the ban has been blocked ever since. I was not concerned when the state appealed to the Supreme Court. I expected the court would not take up the case.

Then last month, I got a call from my lawyer at the Center for Reproductive Rights. The Supreme Court would hear Mississippi’s appeal, she said. It would reconsider whether states may ban abortion before the point set forth in Roe.

If the ban is upheld and Roe is reversed, it would make an already awful situation yet more dire. Women may need to drive even farther, across multiple states, to get abortion care.

We desperately need — we have long needed — Congress to intervene.

If the court reverses Roe and allows states to ban abortion earlier than viability, nearly half of the states could take action to ban abortion, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights. Already, at least 10 states have trigger laws in place that are designed to ban abortion immediately should Roe be overturned. We will become two separate countries: one where women can control their bodies and futures, and one where they cannot.

But the truth is, we are already two separate countries.

While some states, including California and New York, have laws protecting abortion rights, the laws in Mississippi are designed to make abortion hard to get and to make clinics like mine harder to operate. There are now five states with just one remaining abortion clinic, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization that supports abortion rights.

Abortion is absolutely a racial and economic justice issue. A large majority of our patients are Black women like me. The legislatures passing these laws in Mississippi and other Southern states are mostly male and predominantly white. The laws are inherently racist and classist; they keep Black and brown people down. And the research is clear: A woman who is denied an abortion is more likely to live in poverty even years later.

People who can afford to fly many states over are able to avoid this spider web of laws. Many of the women who can’t afford that, who manage to make it through our doors, have spent every penny they have and driven for hours, and had to take time off work and find the money for gas, a hotel and child care — only to have to force their way through a pack of protesters shouting “whore” and “murderer.”

But what really haunts me are the women I never see — the ones who can’t make it here.

The ability to control your own body and future should not depend on where you live, who you are and how much money you make. But state lawmakers have made that our reality. And if the Supreme Court overturns Roe, this inequality will be hugely magnified.

We need the federal government to put an end to this assault on our rights. We need it to protect abortion access everywhere, for everyone.

On Tuesday, members of Congress reintroduced a bill that would do exactly that — the Women’s Health Protection Act. The bill, which was first introduced in 2013 but has never been passed, would protect against state laws like Mississippi’s two-trip requirement and 15-week ban. It would do so by creating a statutory right for health care providers to deliver abortion care and a right for patients to receive that care without medically unnecessary restrictions.

If this legislation becomes law, abortion access will be protected in every state. The law would surely face stiff legal pushback from Mississippi and other anti-abortion states, but Congress has passed laws protecting health care access, and this one should be treated no differently.

This year must be the year the bill passes. We have needed Congress’s help for many years, but now we need it more than ever.

Shannon Brewer is the clinic director at Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the only abortion clinic in Mississippi.

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