Mississippi

Mississippi Abortion Clinic at Center of Supreme Court Decision Shuts Its Doors

The last abortion clinic in Mississippi has had a chaotic last few days, with the facility trying to see as many patients as possible while anti-abortion protesters clash with volunteers

A clinic security officer, left, attempts to keep anti-abortion activist Doug Lane, left, from a physical confrontation
AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis

Mississippi's only abortion clinic has been buzzing with activity in the chaotic days since the U.S. Supreme Court upended abortion rights nationwide — a case that originated in this conservative Deep South state, with this bright-pink medical facility that is closing its doors Wednesday.

Physicians at Jackson Women’s Health Organization have been trying to see as many patients as possible before Thursday, when, barring an unlikely intervention by the state’s conservative Supreme Court, Mississippi will enact a law to ban most abortions.

Amid stifling summer heat and humidity, clashes intensified Wednesday between anti-abortion protesters and volunteers escorting patients into the clinic, best known as the Pink House.

When Dr. Cheryl Hamlin, who has traveled from Boston for five years to perform abortions, walked outside the Pink House, an abortion opponent used a bullhorn to yell at her. “Repent! Repent!" shouted Doug Lane.

His words were drowned out by abortion rights supporter Beau Black, who repeatedly screamed at Lane: “Hypocrites and Pharisees! Hypocrites and Pharisees!”

Abortion access has become increasingly limited across wide swaths of the U.S. as conservative states enact restrictions or bans that took effect when the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 ruling that legalized abortion nationwide.

There was a spike in search-engine interest for abortion pills following the leak of the Supreme Court draft opinion overturning Roe v. Wade. The pills mifepristone and misoprostol, taken together, can end a pregnancy before it reaches 10 weeks, though the pills will be difficult to access for people who need them in states that have moved to ban abortion following the Supreme Court ruling. "I have no doubt that women who are desperate will do just about anything to get their hands on pills like this," said NBC News medical contributor Dr. Natalie Azar.

The court, reshaped by three conservative justices appointed by former President Donald Trump, issued the ruling June 24. But the Mississippi clinic has been inundated with patients since September, when Texas enacted a ban on abortion early in pregnancy.

Cars with license plates from Texas, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Arkansas have been driving through Jackson’s Fondren neighborhood to bring women and girls— some of whom appeared to be teenagers — to the Pink House. Drivers parked on side streets near the clinic in the shade of pink and purple crepe myrtles, their car air-conditioners blasting as they waited.

Diane Derzis, who has owned the Mississippi clinic since 2010, drove to Jackson to speak at the Pink House hours after the Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v. Wade.

“It’s been such an honor and a privilege to be in Mississippi. I’ve come to love this state and the people in it,” Derzis told those gathered in the sweltering heat.

The Supreme Court ruling was in a case called Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization — the clinic's challenge of a 2018 Mississippi law to ban most abortions after 15 weeks. The Pink House had been doing abortions through 16 weeks, but under previous U.S. Supreme Court rulings, abortion was allowed to the point of fetal viability at about 24 weeks.

Mississippi's top public health official, Dr. Thomas Dobbs, was named in the lawsuit, but has not taken a public position about the case. The state's Republican attorney general urged justices to use the case to overturn Roe v. Wade and give states more power to regulate or ban abortion.

Derzis told The Associated Press after the ruling that she didn't regret filing the lawsuit that eventually undercut nearly five decades of abortion case law.

“We didn’t have a choice. And if it hadn’t been this lawsuit, it would have been another one,” said Derzis, who also owns abortion clinics in Georgia and Virginia, and lives in Alabama.

The Mississippi clinic uses out-of-state physicians like Dr. Hamlin because no in-state doctors will work there.

All of the Supreme Court justices were questioned about their judicial beliefs on the legal precedent of Roe v. Wade during their senate confirmation hearings. Here’s what they had to say.

As the Pink House prepared to close, Dr. Hamlin said she worries about women living in deep poverty in parts of the state with little access to health care.

“People say, ‘Oh, what am I supposed to do?’" she said. "And I'm like, ‘Vote.’”

Shannon Brewer, the Pink House director, agrees low-income women will be most affected by being unable to get abortions in-state.

Brewer told the AP the anti-abortion protesters know her by name and yell at her but she tunes them out.

“They don’t say a lot to me anymore other than, you know, ‘You’re coming to work to kill babies,'" Brewer said. "I’ve been here for 20-something years. So, it’s like when I get out of the car I don’t really hear it because it’s like the same thing over and over and over again."

Some staffers were expected to be in the Pink House on Thursday for paperwork ahead of its closure, but no procedures.

With the Mississippi clinic closing, Derzis and Brewer will soon open an abortion clinic in Las Cruces, New Mexico, about an hour’s drive from El Paso, Texas, — calling it Pink House West. Hamlin said she is getting licensed in New Mexico so she can work there.

Mississippi and New Mexico are two of the poorest states in the U.S., but have vastly different positions on abortion politics and access.

In striking down Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court cited "history and tradition." What exactly does that history look like? To find out, LX News Storyteller Jalyn Henderson talked with Leslie Jean Reagan, who teaches Women and Gender Studies at the University of Illinois - Urbana Champagne and authored "When Abortion Was a Crime."

Home to a Democratic-led legislature and governor, New Mexico recently took an extra step to protect providers and patients from out-of-state prosecutions. It’s likely to continue to see a steady influx of people seeking abortions from neighboring states with more restrictive abortion laws.

One of the largest abortion providers in Texas, Whole Woman’s Health, announced Wednesday that it is also planning to reopen in New Mexico in a city near the state line, to provide first- and second-trimester abortions. It began winding down operations in Texas after a ruling Friday by the state Supreme Court that forced an end to abortions at its four clinics.

Standing outside the Mississippi clinic on June 24, Derzis was pragmatic about the future of the building she had painted bright pink several years ago.

“This building will be sold and maybe someone will knock it down and make a parking lot here," Derzis said. "And that will be sad, but she served her purpose and many women had their abortions here.”

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AP writer Susan Montoya Bryan contributed from Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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