Mississippi clinic at center of Supreme Court abortion case keeps its doors open

A man in a "Fear God" T-shirt speaks with his hand raised outside an abortion clinic.
Allen Siders, an antiabortion activist, preaches outside the Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a state-licensed abortion clinic in Jackson, Miss.
(Rogelio V. Solis / Associated Press)
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As the Supreme Court hears a Mississippi case that could topple abortion rights nationwide, the state’s only abortion clinic is busier than ever: Volunteers continue to escort patients into the bright pink building while protesters outside beseech women not to end their pregnancies.

In recent years, Jackson Women’s Health Organization saw patients two or three days a week. It recently doubled its hours to treat patients from Texas, where a law took effect in early September banning most abortions at about six weeks into pregnancy, and from Louisiana, where clinics are also filling with Texas patients.

The case being argued before the nation’s high court Wednesday is about a 2018 Mississippi law that would ban most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. But the stakes are high because the state’s Republican attorney general is asking the court — remade with three conservative justices nominated by President Trump — to use the case to overturn Roe vs. Wade, the court’s 1973 ruling that declared a nationwide right to abortion.


The Supreme Court has never allowed states to ban abortion before viability, the point at roughly 24 weeks when a fetus can survive outside the uterus. Early Wednesday, hundreds of demonstrators gathered outside the court, staking out their opposing positions with signs that read “Her Body Her Choice” and “God Hates the Shedding of Innocent Blood.”

“I just hope that the Supreme Court holds precedent on what they’re supposed to be doing, but my hopes are not that high,” the Mississippi clinic director, Shannon Brewer, said Tuesday from Washington.

Brewer said she has never been more concerned about abortion rights in the U.S. than she is now.

Supreme Court will hear Mississippi’s request to uphold its 15-week limit and also overturn Roe vs. Wade.

Nov. 17, 2021

She has good reason: The Guttmacher Institute, a research organization that supports abortion rights, says that if Roe vs. Wade were overturned or fundamentally weakened, 21 states have laws or constitutional amendments “that would make them certain to attempt to ban abortion as quickly as possible.”

Mississippi is one of the states with an abortion ban that was set before Roe and that would take effect if the precedent is overturned. Republican Gov. Tate Reeves spoke Sunday at “Pray Together for Life,” an event hosted by the Family Research Council.

“Abortion is barbaric,” Reeves declared. “Abortion is evil. It’s probably the greatest evil of our day.”


Reeves noted that he presided over the Mississippi Senate in 2018 and helped push the bill with the 15-week abortion ban to the desk of then-Gov. Phil Bryant, a fellow Republican.

The more conservative Supreme Court takes on a famous liberal precedent: the Roe vs. Wade decision.

Nov. 30, 2021

Like Bryant, Reeves often says he wants to make Mississippi the safest place in America for unborn children. Yet Mississippi has the highest infant mortality rate and one of the highest rates of births to teenage mothers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Valencia Robinson is executive director of Mississippi in Action, an organization that supports abortion rights and works on other sexual health issues. She said restricting access to abortion disproportionately hurts Black women who are more likely to live in poverty.

A Supreme Court decision is likely months away. As both abortion-rights and antiabortion activists anxiously wait to see how justices will rule, the clinic will continue operating. Given heightened security concerns amid the court hearing, however, Brewer said she would not allow the Associated Press or other news organizations inside this week. In the past, she has allowed the AP inside the building, which has a small waiting room with magazines and free condoms and a conference room where groups of women receive state-mandated counseling at least 24 hours before an abortion.

Women or girls in the first few weeks of pregnancy receive medication to induce abortion. Those further along receive surgical abortions in one of the clinic’s operating rooms. Out-of-state physicians work at the clinic because it’s been years since any Mississippi physician has been willing to perform abortions there.

Just three lawyers — one defending restrictions on abortion, two arguing against them — will present their cases before the Supreme Court.

Dec. 1, 2021

The clinic — known by supporters as the Pink House — is in Jackson’s eclectic Fondren neighborhood, a short drive from the Mississippi Capitol, where legislators have been voting to restrict abortion access for decades. On many days, the clinic is enveloped by a cacophony of noise from bullhorn-wielding protesters outside the black iron fence and clinic escorts who blare rock music inside the perimeter.


The scene was similar Tuesday, when Keith Dalton, the pastor of a nondenominational Christian church, raised his voice at men who had driven women there and told a man who sat in a car in the fenced-off parking lot that he would adopt the couple’s baby.

“Come on, man ... don’t let your child be killed,” Dalton yelled. Pointing to the clinic where the man’s female companion had gone, he continued: “You want to talk about something that will destroy a relationship? This will destroy your relationship with your girlfriend or fiancée or wife or whatever.”

Tanya Britton, a past president of Pro-Life Mississippi, stepped up and said loudly: “In the name of Jesus — have mercy on your child, have mercy on her or him. God loves you and does not desire this for you or your baby.”

Sharon Lobert, a retired nurse, wears a rainbow-striped Clinic Escort vest while walking women from the parking lot into the building. She said that she has learned to tune out protesters and that her goal is to ensure women are treated with dignity.

“My strategy is to only pay attention when I think I can deflect their harassment away from one particular woman,” Lobert said.

The Mississippi Health Department website has abortion statistics dating back to 1980. The highest number of abortions in a single year since then was 7,574 in 1991. The lowest was 4,272 in 2015. White women received the most abortions until about the mid-1990s, when they were surpassed by Black women.

About 59% of Mississippi residents are white, and about 38% are Black. During the past five years, about 75% of those receiving an abortion in Mississippi were Black and about 21% were white. Race was listed as “other” or “unknown” for the rest.

“The right to decide whether or when to have a child is essential for social, economic and racial equality, reproductive autonomy and the right to determine our own future,” said Robinson of Mississippi in Action. “Mississippians know what’s best for them and their families.”