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Lone Mississippi clinic on front line of U.S. Supreme Court abortion battle

Sports & GeneralNov 29, 2021 06:47PM ET
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© Reuters. Regina Chandler sits in protest outside the Jackson Women's Health Organization, Mississippi's only abortion clinic, in Jackson, Mississippi, U.S., October 27, 2021. REUTERS/Rory Doyle

By Lawrence Hurley

JACKSON, Miss. (Reuters) - As a car drove into the parking lot of Jackson Women's Health Organization clinic, the only abortion provider in the state of Mississippi, anti-abortion activist Beverly Anderson leaned in to speak to the woman in the passenger's seat.

Two escorts wearing rainbow-colored vests blared rock music to drown out Anderson and other protesters as patients entered the fenced lot.

"Ma'am, you are already a mother. Don't let them kill your baby," Anderson, 61, told the woman.

The escorts turned up the volume on the Guns N' Roses song "Nightrain" as the woman was led into the pink-colored building located next to a Homewood Suites hotel and across the street from a taqueria.

It is a common scene at a clinic at the center of a major legal fight now before the U.S. Supreme Court that could shape the future of American abortion rights. The nine justices on Wednesday are due to hear arguments in Mississippi's bid to revive a Republican-backed 2018 law, blocked by lower courts, banning abortion at 15 weeks of pregnancy. Mississippi has asked the justices to overturn the landmark 1973 Roe. v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion nationwide.

Mississippi is among 12 states with so-called trigger laws designed to ban abortion if Roe v. Wade is overturned. Additional states also likely would move quickly to curtail abortion access with such a ruling.

Anti-abortion advocates like Anderson, who cite religious opposition to the procedure, believe they are closer than ever to overturning Roe, a longstanding goal for Christian conservatives and a driving force behind some recent Supreme Court appointments by Republican presidents.

Anderson said she would "praise God" if the Supreme Court rules the way she hopes.


The Jackson clinic sees between 60 and 80 patients a week, with most obtaining abortions by pill. It has two rooms where women can obtain surgical abortions performed between 11 and 16 weeks of pregnancy.

A 40-year-old woman from Jackson, who was six weeks pregnant and undergoing a medication abortion, said she was grateful for the clinic.

"Every woman has a choice on whether to have a child or not. I don't think it's the state's decision," she said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Roe v. Wade recognized that the right to personal privacy under the U.S. Constitution protects a woman's ability to terminate her pregnancy. The Supreme Court in a 1992 ruling called Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey reaffirmed the right to abortion and prohibited laws imposing an "undue burden" on abortion access.

Abortion opponents hope the court, with its 6-3 conservative majority, will narrow or overturn the Roe and Casey rulings in the Mississippi case.

Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch, a Republican, in court papers called those two rulings "egregiously wrong" and based on obsolete science. State legislatures should have more leeway to restrict abortion, Fitch said.

The Roe and Casey decisions determined that states cannot ban abortion before a fetus is viable outside the womb, generally viewed by doctors as between 24 and 28 weeks.

Mississippi's 15-week ban directly challenged that finding. Even if the court does not explicitly overturn Roe, any ruling letting states ban abortion before the fetus is viable outside the womb would raise questions about how early states could ban the procedure.

"Without that clear line that courts could apply, states would be able to ban abortion at virtually any point of pregnancy," said lawyer Julie Rikelman of the Center for Reproductive Rights, which challenged Mississippi's law on behalf of the Jackson clinic.

Mississippi's law and other similar ones passed by various Republican-led states represent direct challenges to Roe v. Wade.

After the clinic sued to block the measure, a federal judge in 2018 ruled against Mississippi. The New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2019 reached the same conclusion, prompting Mississippi to turn to the Supreme Court

Sitting behind her desk in her cluttered office, one eye on a screen showing security camera footage of the anti-abortion protesters outside, clinic director Shannon Brewer vowed to do whatever she can to help women access abortion if the Supreme Court rules in favor of Mississippi.

"That would be a huge step backwards. It would be a slap in a woman's face to say after all these years you still don't have control over your body," Rikelman said.

Her organization could assist with travel and accommodation costs and refer women to out-of-state doctors for abortions, Brewer said.

If Roe v. Wade were overturned, more women would have to travel out of conservative states like Mississippi for abortions, an option that those with scarce financial resources may be unable to accomplish, according to a doctor at the clinic who flies in from Massachusetts.

"It makes me want to cry," said the doctor, also speaking on condition of anonymity. "It makes me feel defeated and horrified that people in this country hate women so much they don't want them to be able to access a full range of pregnancy care."

Lone Mississippi clinic on front line of U.S. Supreme Court abortion battle

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