Mississippi Patients Hurry to Get Abortions Before It's Too Late

Posted on 7.09.2012 by Amy

UPDATE: Thursday, July 12 On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Daniel Jordan extended his ruling blocking the anti-abortion law in Mississippi from going into effect. That means the clinic stays open -- for now.

Lily wrote a little while back about Mississippi's last remaining abortion clinic and how it's been threatened by a new law aimed at ending abortion.

The law requires all the clinic's doctors to have admitting privileges at hospitals, which is nearly impossible for many providers, in part because they admit so few patients to the hospital. Similar laws have passed in at least nine other states.

The Jackson Women's Health Organization sued. It was their only shot at survival. And on July 1, the day the law was scheduled to take effect, a judge temporarily blocked it. Their fate now rests on a hearing scheduled to take place this week.

A New York Times reporter described the scene at Jackson Women's Health Organization after the law was temporarily blocked:

"The phones buzzed over and over at Mississippi’s only abortion clinic on Monday. Yes, receptionists told the dozens of young women who called, they could still see a doctor about an unwanted pregnancy. But they would need to come soon…The clinic’s three doctors normally perform about 40 abortions a week, but received more than 100 calls in one day last week from women trying to schedule appointments. Two of the doctors live out of state and will fly in to perform abortions this week, said Diane Derzis, the clinic owner."

Take that, antis. The clinic is performing more abortions because you tried to stop them.

Wait, no, seriously, the fact that patients feel pressured to have an abortion immediately is not a victory for anyone. Here's clinic owner Diane Derzis again: “What women are hearing is, You may not be able to have an abortion soon,” she said. “If you’re pregnant and you don’t want to be, you’re thinking, ‘By God, I’ve got to get in there fast.’”

Now as someone who's been on the other end of that phone line talking to people who are pregnant and don't want to be, I'm trying to imagine how these conversations went down.

Patient: "Hi, I want an abortion, and I'm wondering if the state has shut you down yet?"

Counselor: "Not yet, but they might next week."

I've spoken to patients who were so distraught over their unplanned pregnancies they appeared on the verge of suicide. I've spoken to some who were paralyzed by the weight of the decision. I've talked to others who just knew it just was not time for a kid. Ho-no. Nuh-uh. Done. Let's get this over with.

I still can't imagine having to tell any of them to hurry up. That concept is antithetical to quality abortion counseling, which is about supporting patients, helping them feel safe and ensuring they're ready. Unless someone was 21 weeks pregnant and on the verge of hitting the clinic's gestational limit, one of the most reassuring things I could tell patients was, "You have time."

As it turns out, patients in Mississippi may not have time.

Let's pause and take stock for a minute. Abortion has been legal in this country for nearly 40 years. And Republicans in Mississippi are on the verge of running the state's last standing clinic out of business. Openly. Blatantly. Because they're not hiding what they're doing.

The law's sponsor, State Representative Sam Mims, has said “if this abortion clinic is closed, I think it’s a great day for Mississippi.”

Governor Phil Bryant has expressed his desire to see his state become "abortion-free."

The judge, who was actually backed by George W. Bush and Sen Trent Lott, cited these kinds of statements as a reason for blocking the law.

“Plaintiffs have offered evidence — including quotes from significant legislative and executive officers — that the act’s purpose is to eliminate abortions in Mississippi," he wrote. "They likewise submitted evidence that no safety or health concerns motivated its passage. This evidence has not yet been rebutted.”

Well, yeah. Heck yes for common sense.

But this doesn't end the battle for Mississippi's last clinic. (By the way, did we mention it's the last clinic in Mississippi?) We'll keep a close eye on the hearing this week.

If Jackson Women's Health Organization is shuttered by a law that is blatantly aimed at taking away a legal, medical right, I wonder if it will be a last straw for the silent majority in this country, the one in three people who have had abortions, the 99 percent of the reproductive justice movement: those who have either had an abortion or know and love someone who has. I wonder if it will be a mobilizing moment -- or if it won't.

This year we've seen a law in Virginia requiring patients to undergo an ultrasound and waiting period before an abortion. We've seen a 72-hour waiting period take effect in Utah. We've seen numerous states enact onerous laws aimed at shutting down clinics. And it's not as if this is something totally new. Since 1976 in this country, the use of federal funds to pay for abortion has been banned. The Hyde Amendment has forced many low-income patients, disproportionately people of color, to pay for legal healthcare services out of pocket, for nearly as long as abortion has been legal.

Mississippi's last remaining abortion clinic is a powerful symbol, not only of the strength of the providers and workers there, but of the desperate state of abortion access in this country. But the fact is abortion access has been ending since Roe v. Wade. Not just in Mississippi, not even just in rural areas, but in every place patients have to struggle to pay for their healthcare, in every place where women have to wait…or to hurry up.