Scramble as Mississippi’s last abortion clinic closes


Dr. Cheryl Hamlin speaks with reporters outside the Jackson Women’s Health Organization clinic in Jackson, Mississippi, Wednesday, July 6, 2022. Hamlin is part of a rotating group of doctors who perform abortions at the clinic, which is the only facility that performs abortions. in the state. On Tuesday, a chancery judge denied a request by the clinic to temporarily block a state law banning most abortions. Without further developments in the Mississippi lawsuit, the clinic will close at the end of business Wednesday and the state law will go into effect Thursday. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)


Mississippi’s only abortion clinic is buzzing with activity in the chaotic days since the US Supreme Court struck down nationwide abortion rights – a case that originated in this conservative Southern state deep, with this bright pink medical facility closing on Wednesday.

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

Amid sweltering summer heat and humidity, clashes escalated on Wednesday between anti-abortion protesters and volunteers escorting patients into the clinic, popularly known as the Rose House.

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

Her words were drowned out by abortion rights advocate Beau Black, who repeatedly shouted at Lane, “Hypocrites and Pharisees! hypocrites and Pharisees!

Abortion access has become increasingly limited in large swaths of the United States as conservative states enact restrictions or bans that went into effect when the Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision that legalized abortion nationwide.

The court, reshaped by three conservative judges appointed by former President Donald Trump, handed down the decision on June 24. But the Mississippi clinic has been inundated with patients since September, when Texas enacted a ban on early pregnancy abortions.

Cars with license plates from Texas, Mississippi, Louisiana and Arkansas drove through the Fondren neighborhood of Jackson to bring women and girls – some of whom appeared to be teenagers – to the Rose House. Drivers parked on the side streets near the clinic under the shade of pink and purple crape myrtles, their car air conditioners blasting as they waited.

Diane Derzis, owner of the Mississippi clinic since 2010, traveled to Jackson to speak at the Pink House hours after the Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade.

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

The Supreme Court decision was in a case called Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization – the clinic’s challenge to a 2018 Mississippi law banning most abortions after 15 weeks. The Pink House had performed abortions for 16 weeks, but under previous U.S. Supreme Court rulings, abortion was permitted up to the point of fetal viability at around 24 weeks.

Mississippi’s top public health official, Dr. Thomas Dobbs, was named in the lawsuit, but did not take a public position on the case. The state’s Republican attorney general has urged judges 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 decision that she did not regret filing a lawsuit that ultimately undermined nearly five decades of abortion case law.

“We had no choice. And if it hadn’t been for this trial, 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 doctors like Dr. Hamlin because no out-of-state doctors will work there.

As the Pink House prepared to close, Dr. Hamlin said she was concerned that women were living in dire poverty in areas of the state with little access to health care.

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

Shannon Brewer, the director of Pink House, agrees that low-income women will be hit the hardest by the inability to get abortions in the state.

Brewer told the AP that anti-abortion protesters knew her by name and yelled at her, but she ignored them.

“They don’t tell me much anymore other than, you know, ‘You come to work to kill babies,'” Brewer said. “I’ve been here for about 20 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 staff were due to be at the Pink House on Thursday for paperwork before it closed, 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 was getting a license in New Mexico so she could work there.

Mississippi and New Mexico are two of the poorest states in the United States, but have very different stances on abortion policy and access.

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

One of the largest abortion providers in Texas, Whole Woman’s Health, announced Wednesday that it also plans to reopen in New Mexico in a town near the state line, to provide abortions to the first and in the second trimester. It began ceasing operations in Texas after a state Supreme Court ruling on Friday 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 painted bright pink several years ago.

“This building will be sold and maybe someone will tear it down and make a parking lot here,” Derzis said. “And it will be sad, but it served its purpose and many women have abortions here.”


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


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Lynn A. Saleh