Future With ‘No Access to Abortion In The Entire South’ Likely, Mississippi Activists Warn at Rally

A group of abortion rights supporters march in Jackson, Mississippi
Abortion rights supporters marched in Jackson, Miss., on Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021. While speaking on a stage at the Smith-Wills Stadium, activists and organizers warned that almost all abortions could soon be outlawed in Mississippi and across the South if the U.S. Supreme Court considers overturns Roe v. Wade. Photo by Ashton Pittman

JACKSON, Miss.—Dozens of Mississippi abortion-rights supporters gathered in the capital city over the weekend to organize and warn others about the impending peril to Roe v. Wade, the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that found women have a constitional right to abortion care.

“I’m an abortion freedom fighter. And I’m not sure if you’re all aware of what’s going on in this country,” Michelle Colon told a crowd gathered at Jackson’s Smith-Wills Stadium. “Right now there’s a case at the Supreme Court that came from the white oppressive patriarchy … . They plan on overturning Roe v. Wade, which gave us the right to abortion.”

Colon founded SHERo Mississippi, which stands for “Sisters Helping Every Woman Rise and Organize.” She has worked to defend abortion rights in Mississippi since she was a teenager. Several years ago, she organized the Pink House Defenders, a group that helps protect workers, employees, and patients at the state’s only abortion clinic from the often loud, raucous anti-abortion protesters who line the sidewalks. 

Years earlier, Laurie Bertram Roberts, another Black abortion-rights leader in Mississippi, had organized a team of clinic “escorts” to help women avoid picketers as they made their way to the doors of the Jackson Women’s Health Organization.


That clinic is at the center of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a federal lawsuit challenging Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban that the U.S. Supreme Court will hear on Dec. 1. 

‘The Chance to Really Redirect Their Lives’

In a July legal brief, Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch asked the court not just to uphold the state’s abortion restrictions, but to overturn Roe v. Wade entirely.

“Think about this: the lives that will be touched, the babies that will be saved, the mothers that will get the chance to really redirect their lives,” Fitch told EWTN Pro-Life Weekly host Cartherine Hadro on Sept. 24 while discussing her effort to get Roe v. Wade overturned. “And they have all these opportunities that they didn’t have 50 years ago. … You have the option in life to really achieve your dream and goals, and you can have those beautiful children as well.”

“If this law is upheld by the Supreme Court, there will be no access to abortion in the entire South with the exception of Florida,” said SHERo Mississippi organizer Michelle Colon. Photo by Ashton Pittman

At the abortion-rights rally on Saturday, though, organizers and activists described abortion as not just an issue of “choice,” but one of “justice.”

“Now, I know some people are cringing when I say that word, but I’m going to say it again: abortion, abortion, abortion,” Colon told those gathered at Saturday’s rally, which took place in conjunction with Capital Pride festivities. “If this law is upheld by the Supreme Court, there will be no access to abortion in the entire South with the exception of Florida. People in Mississippi will have to travel to Illinois, Kansas or Florida.”

Mississippi’s Anti-Abortion Trigger Laws

Like many other conservative states, Mississippi has a trigger law on the books that would immediately ban most abortions, including ones earlier than 15 weeks, in the event of Roe v. Wade’s demise. After lawmakers passed the 15-week abortion ban in 2018, they came back again in 2019 and passed an even more restrictive law, banning abortions after a fetal heartbeat becomes detectable, which typically happens around six weeks gestation. 

That law remains in limbo after lower courts blocked it from taking effect, saying they were bound by the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade precedent.

 

Jackson Women's Health Organization
The Jackson Women’s Health Organization, Mississippi’s last abortion clinic, is at the center of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a U.S. Supreme Court case that court observers said could determine the fate of Roe v. Wade and abortion rights in America. Photo by Ashton Pittman

A similar law ban abortions after six weeks is already in effect in Texas after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to issue an emergency order blocking it from going into effect in late August, citing the Texas law’s unique mechanisms. Instead of using the state’s law-enforcement capacities to enforce the Texas heartbeat law, it grants citizens the right to do so by filing lawsuits against those who they suspect helped facilitate an abortion. 

“On Sept. 1, people in Texas woke up and realized that they could not have an abortion after six weeks. And in so many states across the country, that is becoming our reality,” Tyler Harden, the director of Planned Parenthood Southeast, told the crowd on Saturday. “… So for people who are seeking out abortion services in Mississippi, just know that there are resources available for you.”

She highlighted organizations that helped with abortion assistance including the Mississippi Reproductive Fund, which Bertram Roberts co-founded, and ARC Southeast, which provides assistance in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina and Tennessee. Harden also noted that the Jackson Women’s Health Organization remains open and is currently continuing to provide abortions up until 16 weeks gestation.

‘Abortion Is A Medical Decision’

On the stage, spoken-word artist Amanda Furdge-Shelby, a mother of three boys, shared her abortion story while her husband stood off to the side of the stage nearby, helping hold up an “Abortion Freedom Fighters” flag. 

The Mississippi native said she moved to Chicago years ago, where she “had two safe, legal abortions,” before returning to the Magnolia State. When Furdge-Shelby sought an abortion after returning to Mississippi, though, she learned she was already too far along in her pregnancy.

“I’m here to show you that somebody that you know, you know someone who has had and benefited from safe legal healthy abortions. You also know someone who was rejected from the possibility to have a safe, legal healthy abortion. So what we need to do is respect people’s right to choose,” she said.

Anti-abortion street preachers staged a counter protest outside the Smith-Wills stadium and later attempted to interrupt abortion rights activists as they demonstrated on the side of Lakeland Drive in Jackson on Oct. 2, 2021. Photo by Ashton Pittman

“… Abortion is not a bad word. Ok? Some people are so afraid in 2021 to say the word ‘abortion.’ Abortion is not a bad word. If you take anything from me, take that I’m raising the young people I know to say abortion is not a bad word. Abortion is a medical decision.”

Colon returned to the stage moments later.

“What she just did was she destigmatized abortion. It’s not a bad word,” the SHERo founder said. “And I just want to say this in closing: For those of you all who go to the doctor, OK, for my men: When you go to get your colonoscopies or your prostates checked, are you bombarded with hateful speech and individuals standing outside your doctors’ office trying to block your entrance?” 

“No!” the men in the crowd shouted back.

“That’s what pregnant people endure across this country every freaking day when they go to the abortion clinic,” Colon continued. “And that’s got to stop.”

Comments

Can you support the Mississippi Free Press?

 The Mississippi Free Press is nonprofit, solutions journalism for Mississippians and others who care about the state. 

Our newsroom runs on donations from people who care about Mississippi and this reporting. We thank you for reading and ask for your financial support.

Click the Support button below or at the very top of the site. Your donation will be made through the Community Foundation for Mississippi, our fiscal agent. Thank you!

Can you support the Mississippi Free Press?

 The Mississippi Free Press is nonprofit, solutions-driven journalism for Mississippians and others who care about the state. 

With your help, we can do even more important stories like this one.