Can Mississippi’s Last Abortion Clinic Survive?

“Of course the court has changed in the last four years, but that’s not why the case is being heard. I think the case is being heard because science has changed over the past 50 years, when roe was originally decided, ”said Governor Tate Reeves, citing his belief that medicine has lowered the viability threshold. “It is just a very important step for us to have the opportunity to present our arguments and present the facts in terms of technological improvements and advancements in science.”

The mood among those who tried to comply with abortion rights ranged from resigned acceptance to anger. For decades, you’ve watched Mississippi lawmakers pass bill after bill that reduced the number of abortion providers to a single outpost in the state’s black-majority capital.

After U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves, who had no relationship with Governor Reeves, lifted the 15-week ban in 2018, his ruling was upheld by the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in 2019. While he waited to see if the Supreme Court would go to take up the case, activists like Laurie Bertram Roberts, co-founder and executive director of the Mississippi Reproductive Fund, prepared for the impact.

“As they kicked it down the street we all said, ‘Yeah, this shit is coming,” said Bertram Roberts.

The question now is whether this case, filed by state health chief Thomas Dobbs, will result in an overthrow roeThis would automatically enforce Mississippi’s “trigger law,” which bans abortion in the first and second trimesters. Five contiguous states in the south have similar triggering laws that may force Mississippi women to travel hundreds of miles for treatment.

In Fondren, a former Mississippian cursed heads of state from the porch of a coffee shop overlooking the clinic. Gaines Dobbins traveled to the west coast four decades ago but comes back frequently to visit his family and he is still following the state’s abortion campaign. He and his wife regularly donate to planned parenting, he said, because “I know how difficult it can be.”

“Without the federal government and Roe v. Wade,” he said, “you wouldn’t have an abortion clinic down here.”

From 1991 Mississippi introduced a series of targeted restrictions on abortion providers, commonly referred to as the “TRAP Acts”.

That year, lawmakers required two appointments with a 24-hour wait between an initial counseling session and the procedure itself. In 1996, state law required women to receive brochures about medical risks associated with abortion, including information that was found to be inaccurate have proven. In 1996, the clinics were also given structural requirements that stipulated a certain width of the corridors, supposedly in order to accommodate a stretcher. In 2007 the legislature passed a law requiring minors to receive a waiver from their parents. The bill also says women must get a copy of a sonogram or hear a fetal heartbeat. In 2012, they tried to force doctors to have licensing rights in nearby hospitals

The laws haven’t banned abortion, but they have worked.

In the late 1980s, Mississippi had five abortion clinics across the state. Until 2008 only the “Pink House” remained. Five other states, including Missouri and Kentucky, have only one abortion provider.

In 2019 then-Gov. Phil Bryant signed the Heartbeat Bill, which essentially banned abortion in the sixth week of pregnancy before many women even know they are pregnant. (Weeks of pregnancy start on the last day of a woman’s last period, usually two weeks before conception. So if a woman is six weeks pregnant, she may have missed her period by just a few days.) Just like before the 15 week old When the ban occurred, a federal district judge filed an injunction on the law and an appeals court upheld the decision.

Mississippi isn’t alone in its recent spate of abortion bills. According to the Guttmacher Institute, 546 abortion restrictions have been introduced in 47 federal states since January 2021. In many cases, the drafters of the bills have expressed a desire to draft a bill that would attract the attention of the Supreme Court. Most of them don’t.

The bill, which could actually affect a generation, was drafted by Republican MP Becky Currie, a nurse from a town of about 12,000 an hour south of Jackson. “Can you imagine how proud I am that my bill was selected, a Mississippi nurse going to the Supreme Court?” Said Currie last week. “It’s a big deal.”

Currie describes the 15 Week Law as “Common Sense” legislation.

“After 15 weeks or four months of pregnancy, it’s only time to decide whether to carry the baby or have an abortion,” she said. “I hope mothers will choose to wear it at this point because you can feel the baby move and see their heartbeat, and with technology, now you even know what the gender is. I think there is enough time to make that decision … Make up your mind after four months. “

In Mississippi, just over 99 percent of the state’s roughly 3,000 abortions were performed 15 weeks ago and three quarters to nine weeks ago in 2018.

When Jackson Women’s Health Clinic first opened in 1995, it provided abortion services until the end of 24 weeks, according to Izzy Pellegrine, a sociology student at Mississippi State University. With the change in state laws, there were also changes in the services of the clinic. Today, the clinic offers the abortion pill (non-medical abortion) up to 11 weeks and surgical abortion up to 16 weeks, which is essentially a law that is actually not in place. According to state law, Medicaid funds cannot pay for abortions in Mississippi.

In short, even if the Supreme Court made the 15 Week Act constitutional, it would not significantly reduce the number of actual abortions performed in the state. However, the impact could be significant if it undermines the established break-even point Roe v. calf and was reiterated in the 1992 Supreme Court decision in Planned Parenthood v. Casey. Under CaseyAbortion restrictions would be considered unconstitutional if they “represent a major obstacle in the path of a woman seeking an abortion of a non-viable fetus”.

Every obstacle, say abortion lawyers, is significant.

The Pink House is in central Mississippi, so women who live in the northern part of the state or on the Gulf Coast often leave the state for abortion help as it’s faster than driving to Jackson, said Bertram Roberts.

“There are so many obstacles. I don’t think people really understand how many roadblocks people have to go through, ”said Bertram Roberts. “There isn’t a patient who doesn’t have to go through the barriers to get to the clinic … The story of Mississippi and abortion that people never tell is that not everyone goes to the bloody Pink House anyway.”

Most of the women who go to the clinic, which provides care in addition to abortion, are black, said Bertram Roberts. Almost three-quarters of abortions in the state are for black women, according to the CDC, by far the highest percentage of any state. The clinic consists of Jackson, with a population of 166,000, and the nearby Mississippi Delta, both of which are mostly poor and black. Mississippi has the highest poverty rate in the nation.

Jarvis Dortch, executive director of ACLU in Mississippi and former Hinds County representative, said, “It’s hard to come by [state lawmakers] to connect that there are ordinary people out there and you probably represent many of them … There’s a big break up there. It’s difficult to get them to even acknowledge it. “

Although she is happy The bill will be taken before the Supreme Court. Currie, the state representative, doesn’t think she’s going to tip over roe.

“I don’t think the Supreme Court will dictate anything,” said Currie. “I think it will take from state to state.”

That’s a top-down argument.

“I want to be clear: while I may have a personal goal in relation to Roe versus Wade, this case is not a case that would overthrow Roe,” said Governor Reeves. “This case relates to the period of 15 weeks.”

Given Republican lawmakers’ long-standing desire to submit a bill to the Supreme Court, it may seem strange that once they have accomplished their goal, they do not expect the judges to overturn the decision they despise. The explanation is that incremental steps can be just as valuable from a practical point of view.

When the Fifth Circle blocked the “heartbeat bill” in 2020, he wrote: “If a ban on abortion is unconstitutional after 15 weeks, a ban on abortion at an earlier stage of pregnancy is also unconstitutional.” Conversely, some think if the 15-week ban is unconstitutional Examining the Supreme Court insists that an even more onerous ban could follow.

Derrick Simmons, chairman of the senator’s state minority who are passionate about women’s suffrage, said he wouldn’t be surprised if the 15-week ban were made constitutional for Mississippi to try again to enact the heartbeat law .

“I hope the US Supreme Court will not reverse the lower court’s decision to declare the 15-week ban unconstitutional. I believe, based on previous efforts in the Mississippi state and nationally, that Republicans will come back with something to attack women’s reproductive rights, ”Simmons said. “No matter what, they’ll be back.”

When asked if the six-week ban would be an option if the 15-week ban is upheld, Governor Reeves said, “It’s hard to speculate what a next step might be. We definitely want to focus on what this particular law says, and on the argument that we believe supports the court ruling in our favor. We must make that decision after an oral argument and after the ruling is made. “

The issue to be resolved first, and facing the Supreme Court, is viability, and Republican lawmakers are making arguments that violate medically accepted standards of care. The survival rate of a baby born before 24 is less than 50 percent, according to most medical experts.

“We know so much more about unborn child development in the womb today than we did in 1992, let alone 1972,” Reeves said. “We have advances in technology that allow us to tell when the heartbeat begins. We know the speed at which the brain is developing. We know about lung development … The more science changes and the more information we have, the clearer it becomes, in my opinion, that the viability of the child outside the womb is certainly much, much younger than many believe. “

Michelle Colon, a local abortion activist and former volunteer at the clinic, doesn’t think Roe will be upset either, at least not with that bill. However, she fears that if the bill is ratified, a rush of similar bills will begin that “cut away” abortion rights.

“The 15 week ban is one of the things it creeps, creeps, creeps,” she said. “How much more chipping can you do? There is nothing else that can be cut away. “

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