Mississippi Leads the U.S. in Eliminating Safe, Affordable Abortion

Jackson, Mississippi, is ground zero in the national war over reproductive rights. Both camps weigh in to TakePart, but—spoiler alert—the exchange is not a dialogue.

jackson mississippi abortion clinic dueling protests

Rose Afriyie, a National Organization for Women (NOW) field organizer from Washington, D.C., protests an Operation Save America demonstration to close the only abortion clinic in the state of Mississippi on July 17, 2006. The demonstration drew hundreds of pro-life and pro-choice demonstrators from around the country in a clash of beliefs that was expected to last eight days, but is still raging more than half a decade later. (Photo: Marianne Todd/Getty Images)

Sara Benincasa is a blogger, comedian, and author of 'Agorafabulous!: Dispatches From My Bedroom.'

Pro-life advocate Tanya Britton calls abortion “intrinsically evil,” and she and her fellow activists may be one step closer to erasing it from their home state of Mississippi. Legal, lower-cost abortion, that is.

Two weeks ago, the Mississippi State Department of Health paid a visit to the state’s only remaining abortion clinic. Was the evaluation prompted by violations to the health code? Well, sort of. The Jackson Women’s Health Organization (JWHO) did break a 2012 state law requiring all its doctors to obtain admitting privileges at local hospitals by January 11, 2013.

Perhaps “break” isn’t quite the right word for it. The relatively new law, specifically designed to “effectively close the only abortion clinic in Mississippi,” requires any doctor performing abortions within state lines to be a board-certified obstetrician and gynecologist. It also requires any abortion provider to have admitting privileges at a local hospital.

JWHO’s own website advertises a need for doctors who meet state requirements:

Jackson Women’s Health Organization is seeking to hire a board-certified or board-eligible OBGYN with admitting privileges at a Jackson area hospital to perform abortion care at our facility for patients up to 16 weeks in the pregnancy.  Candidates must be qualified to perform abortion care up to 16 weeks in the pregnancy as outlined by all regulations governing abortion providers in the State of Mississippi.  

The situation in Mississippi reflects a growing trend in the United States in which anti-abortion groups work at the grassroots, state level to make it difficult for a woman to obtain the procedure.

Rather than trying to knock down Roe v. Wade, pro-life activists have realized that localized efforts are likelier to have the effect they desire. Over the past two years, 135 abortion restrictions have been passed in 30 states. Among other elements, the laws include “mandating ultrasounds, limiting health insurance coverage, extending waiting periods, and making it harder for minors to get an abortion.”

Britton, spokesperson for ProLife Mississippi, says she would be “overjoyed” if Mississippi became the first state without a “freestanding abortion clinic.”

She explains ProLife Mississippi’s support for the Admitting Privileges Law by discussing concern for the health of women who may suffer ill effects after an abortion. Britton says she and her organization believe that “the person that has killed your baby and now has maybe maimed you or hurt you in some way ought to feel obligated, medically obligated, to provide you with follow-up care.”

“The clients that we serve don’t have access to those private doctors. It would be my guess that those people are white and wealthy. Wealthy women have always had access to a safe abortion.”

Britton tells TakePart, “We realized these doctors that are doing abortions are not necessarily the best physicians. [We] felt like they needed to be on staff at the local hospital because women were just being dumped in the local emergency room.”

JWHO owner Diane Derzis tells TakePart that Britton’s comments are “absolute bullshit,” adding, “Those are the kinds of lies that incite crazy people to do crazy things. Why can’t they just deliver their message, which is certainly a powerful message….Why do [they] have to lie? That’s an outrage….I’ve not seen a hospitalization in years.”

Derzis adds that complications sometimes ensue after any kind of surgery, not just a surgical abortion.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, a pro-choice organization, fewer than 0.3 percent of abortions result in an eventual hospitalization. Pro-life organizations put the rate considerably higher, and also often emphasize physical pain during an abortion as well as less-quantifiable emotional pain afterward.

Technically, the closing of the Jackson clinic wouldn’t actually make Mississippi an abortion-free state. Illegal abortions have always been available. And there are other legal abortion providers in Mississippi besides Jackson Women’s Health Organization, but they are individual doctors in private practice.

Derzis says that’s not sufficient to meet the needs of the community. “The clients that we serve don’t have access to those private doctors,” she tells TakePart. “It would be my guess that those people are white and wealthy. Wealthy women have always had access to a safe abortion.”  

Derzis says her clinic served 2,500 to 2,600 mainly low-income, African-American clients last year. She is now a high-profile figure locally as a result of the national coverage of the abortion battle in Mississippi. Her clinic is a daily target of anti-abortion protesters, including, C. Roy McMillan, a signer of the infamous “justifiable homicide” statement that declared sympathy for the actions of the man accused of the 1993 murder of abortion provider Dr. David Gunn.

The justifiable homicide statement also affirmed “the justice of taking all godly action necessary to defend innocent human life including the use of force.”

When asked if she takes special precautions for her own safety, Derzis says no.

“That’s something that I just pretty much don’t worry about,” she says. “I’m not irreplaceable. I’m just the mouth. The mouth is easy to find. The physician is hard [to find].”

Is the war on reproductive rights also a class war? Discuss and debate in COMMENTS.

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