Abortion debate epicenter: Mississippi clinic stays open

Abortion debate epicenter: Mississippi clinic stays open
© Provided by Associated Press Allen Siders, an anti-abortion activist, preaches outside of the Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a state-licensed abortion clinic in Jackson, Miss., Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2021. A small group of anti-abortion activists stood outside the clinic in an effort to dissuade patients from entering. On Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear a case that directly challenges the constitutional right to an abortion established nearly 50 years ago. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — As the U.S. Supreme Court hears a Mississippi case that could topple abortion rights nationwide, the state’s only abortion clinic is busier than ever: Volunteers continue to escort patients into the bright pink building while protesters outside beseech women not to end their pregnancies.

In recent years, Jackson Women’s Health Organization saw patients two or three days a week. It recently doubled its hours to treat women from Texas, where a law took effect in early September banning most abortions at about six weeks, and from Louisiana, where clinics are filling with Texas patients.

Abortion debate epicenter: Mississippi clinic stays open
© Provided by Associated Press Pastor Keith Dalton, of the Church at Jackson, calls out to women entering the “pink house,” the nickname of Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a state-licensed abortion clinic in Jackson, Miss., Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2021. Dalton and several church members were among a small group of anti-abortion activists, that stood outside the clinic in an effort to dissuade patients from entering. On Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear a case that directly challenges the constitutional right to an abortion established nearly 50 years ago. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

The case being argued before the nation’s high court Wednesday is about a 2018 Mississippi law that would ban most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. But the stakes are high because the state’s Republican attorney general is asking the court — remade with three conservative justices nominated by former President Donald Trump — to use the case to overturn Roe v. Wade, the court’s 1973 ruling that declared a nationwide right to abortion.

Abortion debate epicenter: Mississippi clinic stays open
© Provided by Associated Press Long-time Mississippi anti-abortion activist Tanya Britton pulls down some of the protective draping that masks the iron security bars, outlining the Jackson Women’s Health Organization, to observe the patients entering the Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a state-licensed abortion clinic in Jackson, Miss., Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2021. On Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear a case that directly challenges the constitutional right to an abortion established nearly 50 years ago. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

The Supreme Court has never allowed states to ban abortion before viability, the point at roughly 24 weeks when a fetus can survive outside the womb.

“I just hope that the Supreme Court holds precedent on what they’re supposed to be doing, but my hopes are not that high,” the Mississippi clinic director, Shannon Brewer, said Tuesday from Washington.

Brewer said she has never been more concerned about abortion rights in the U.S. than she is now.

She has good reason: The Guttmacher Institute, a research organization that supports abortion rights, says that if Roe v. Wade were overturned or fundamentally weakened, 21 states have laws or constitutional amendments “that would make them certain to attempt to ban abortion as quickly as possible.”

Abortion debate epicenter: Mississippi clinic stays open
© Provided by Associated Press A clinic escort uses her cell phone to record long-time Mississippi anti-abortion activist Tanya Britton as she calls out to patients entering the Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a state-licensed abortion clinic in Jackson, Miss., Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2021. On Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear a case that directly challenges the constitutional right to an abortion established nearly 50 years ago. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Mississippi is one of the states with an abortion ban that was set before Roe and would take effect if that precedent is overturned. Republican Gov. Tate Reeves spoke Sunday at “Pray Together for Life,” an event hosted by the Family Research Council.

“Abortion is barbaric,” Reeves declared. “Abortion is evil. It’s probably the greatest evil of our day.”

Reeves noted that he presided over the Mississippi Senate in 2018 and helped push the bill with the 15-week abortion ban to the desk of then-Gov. Phil Bryant, a fellow Republican.

Abortion debate epicenter: Mississippi clinic stays open
© Provided by Associated Press Sidewalk counselors offer an outgoing patient of the Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a state-licensed abortion clinic in Jackson, Miss., some anti-abortion reading material and information about adoption, Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2021. On Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear a case that directly challenges the constitutional right to an abortion established nearly 50 years ago. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Like Bryant, Reeves often says he wants to make Mississippi the safest place in America for unborn children. Yet, Mississippi has the highest infant mortality rate and one of the highest rates of births to teenage mothers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Valencia Robinson is executive director of Mississippi In Action, an organization that supports abortion rights and works on other sexual health issues. She said restricting access to abortion disproportionately hurts Black women who are more likely to live in poverty.

A Supreme Court decision is likely months away. As both abortion-rights and anti-abortion activists anxiously wait to see how justices will rule, the clinic will continue operating. Given heightened security concerns amid the court hearing, however, Brewer said she would not allow The Associated Press or other news organizations inside this week. In the past, she has allowed the AP inside the building, which has a small waiting room with magazines and free condoms and a conference room where groups of women receive state-mandated counseling at least 24 hours before an abortion.

Abortion debate epicenter: Mississippi clinic stays open
© Provided by Associated Press A sidewalk counselor stands outside the Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a state-licensed abortion clinic in Jackson, Miss., and holds some anti-abortion reading material and information about adoption, Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2021. On Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear a case that directly challenges the constitutional right to an abortion established nearly 50 years ago. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Women or girls in the first few weeks of pregnancy receive medication to induce abortion. Those further along receive surgical abortions in one of the clinic’s operating rooms. Out-of-state physicians work at the clinic because it’s been years since any Mississippi physician has been willing to perform abortions there.

Abortion debate epicenter: Mississippi clinic stays open
© Provided by Associated Press An anti-abortion advocate shows off a pair of hand woven baby “booties” offered women entering the Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a state-licensed abortion clinic in Jackson, Miss., Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2021. The advocate hopes the booties remind those entering the clinic about babies and would make them reconsider receiving an abortion. On Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear a case that directly challenges the constitutional right to an abortion established nearly 50 years ago. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

The clinic — known by supporters as the Pink House — is in Jackson’s eclectic Fondren neighborhood, a short drive from the Mississippi Capitol, where legislators have been voting to restrict abortion access for decades. On many days, the clinic is enveloped by a cacophony of noise from bullhorn-wielding protesters outside the black iron fence and clinic escorts who blare rock music inside the perimeter.

The scene was similar on Tuesday, when Keith Dalton, pastor of a nondenominational Christian church, raised his voice at men who had driven women there and told a man who sat in a car in the fenced-off parking lot that he would adopt the couple’s baby.

Abortion debate epicenter: Mississippi clinic stays open
© Provided by Associated Press A sidewalk counselor offers a patient of the Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a state-licensed abortion clinic in Jackson, Miss., some anti-abortion reading material and information about adoption, Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2021. On Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear a case that directly challenges the constitutional right to an abortion established nearly 50 years ago. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

“Come on, man … don’t let your child be killed,” Dalton yelled. Pointing to the clinic where the man’s female companion had gone, he continued: “You want to talk about something that will destroy a relationship? This will destroy your relationship with your girlfriend or fiancée or wife or whatever.”

Tanya Britton, a past president of Pro-Life Mississippi, stepped up and said loudly: “In the name of Jesus — have mercy on your child, have mercy on her or him. God loves you and does not desire this for you or your baby.”

Abortion debate epicenter: Mississippi clinic stays open
© Provided by Associated Press An anti-abortion advocate offers women entering the Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a state-licensed abortion clinic in Jackson, Miss., a package of candy, snacks and anti-abortion material, Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2021. On Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear a case that directly challenges the constitutional right to an abortion established nearly 50 years ago. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Sharon Lobert, a retired nurse, wears a rainbow-striped Clinic Escort vest while walking women from the parking lot into the building. She said she has learned to tune out protesters and her goal is to ensure women are treated with dignity.

“My strategy is to only pay attention when I think I can deflect their harassment away from one particular woman,” Lobert said.

The Mississippi Health Department website has abortion statistics dating back to 1980. The largest number of abortions in a single year since then was 7,574 in 1991. The smallest was 4,272 in 2015. White people received the most abortions until about the mid-1990s, when they were surpassed by Black people.

About 59% of Mississippi residents are white, and about 38% are Black. During the past five years, about 75% of those receiving an abortion in Mississippi were Black and about 21% were white. Race was listed as “other” or “unknown” for the rest.

“The right to decide whether or when to have a child is essential for social, economic and racial equality, reproductive autonomy and the right to determine our own future,” Robinson said. “Mississippians know what’s best for them and their families.”

____

Follow Emily Wagster Pettus on Twitter at http://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus.

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