FRONTLINE and Mississippi's last abortion clinic

Tonight on PBS at 9pm (check local listings), a program called FRONTLINE: The Last Abortion Clinic will investigate the situation in Mississippi where there is only one abortion clinic left, and why. The answer is obvious. Anti-choice groups and their political allies such as the ones in Mississippi and then all over the country have been successful in eroding Roe v. Wade and reproductive rights with notification and consent laws, waiting periods, forcing physicians to give false information to their patients about abortion (which adds to the cost of an abortion), raising the costs of abortions, passing laws forbidding insurance companies from covering abortions, and so on. And if you’re a woman of lower socioeconomic standing, who resides in a state such as Mississippi, and you don’t want to carry a pregnancy to full term, but you don’t live any where close to this clinic, and you have no way of getting there– too bad. Compliments of the diligent anti-choice groups and politicians who want you to be an incubator against your will. This program will explore these issues, especially in the grand ole state of Mississippi (my ass it is)…

Today, the headlines are filled with speculation about changes in the U.S. Supreme Court and what those changes might mean for abortion — an issue that has divided the country for over 30 years. Heated rhetoric from both sides continues to be heard in courtrooms and on the campaign trail. But while attention is often focused on the arguments, there is another story playing out in local communities. Pro-life advocates have waged a successful campaign to reduce abortions in many places throughout the country. By using state laws to regulate and limit abortion and by creating their own clinics to offer alternatives to women, they have changed the facts on the ground.[...]

And from the site’s press release concerning the issue of anti-choice groups and their political allies gutting Roe, and narrowing reproductive rights…

[...]In the last two years, Mississippi has passed legislation on fetal homicide prosecution, new clinic regulations, requirements to report abortion complications, rights of conscience, and a law that would prohibit the state’s last abortion clinic from offering abortions beyond the first trimester. Americans United for Life (AUL), the nation’s oldest national pro-life organization, refers to this as the “Mississippi Miracle.” “We’re sending a very clear message that we do want to protect the unborn,” says Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck. “That’s why we’ve passed the legislation that we have, and it’s passed overwhelmingly. It’s bipartisan support. It’s Democrats and Republicans. … It’s the House of Representatives and the Senate. Mississippi is truly pro-life.”

[...]In Mississippi, Medicaid offers support for women seeking to continue with an unintended pregnancy, but no state funds or facilities may be used for abortion services. In the last decade, all but one clinic providing pregnancy terminations in the state have closed. The last abortion clinic, in Jackson, is difficult to access for women outside the capital who do not own a car, who have limited funds for gas or who cannot easily take time off from work or child care responsibilities. “It’s like even before Roe v. Wade for these poor women,” says Pat White, a nurse-midwife who has been working in the Mississippi Delta for decades. “We are making decisions for them. These women have no option except to continue with the pregnancy, whether they can afford it, or whether or not it’s wanted, or whether or not they can emotionally provide for the child.”

Not that the anti-choice groups and politicians eroding Roe v. Wade, reproductive rights, and hell–supporting pharmacists who refuse to fill women’s contraception prescriptions along with EC, could give a damn about these women, when they’re confronted with unintentional and unwanted pregnancies. But here’s more from Planned Parenthood on Mississippi’s last abortion clinic.

[...]When the Jackson Women’s Health Clinic (not affiliated with Planned Parenthood) first opened its doors in 1995, there were still four clinics in Mississippi that offered abortion services. But since last August, the Jackson clinic has been the only one to serve the entire state.[...]

Fertile Ground for Restricting Access

—Hill had good reason to be pessimistic. Mississippi has one of the most anti-choice atmospheres of any state in the U.S.:

—The Democratic Party in Mississippi claims itself a “party of life.”

—Eighty-six percent of Mississippi women live in a county without an abortion provider.

—Abortions after 16 weeks are virtually nonexistent, because no facility performs them.

—The state passed legislation last year to stop clinics from performing abortions after 12 weeks. (It was recently struck down by a U.S. district judge as unconstitutional.)

–The state is one of only two in the U.S. that requires a minor to obtain permission from both of her parents to get an abortion.

—Women must endure a 24-hour waiting period before they can have an abortion. During that time they are given state-mandated information that is often distorted or even false, such as the erroneous claim that there is a connection between abortion and breast cancer.

—The state requires that a physician give out this information, which adds to the cost of the abortion, especially for a clinic such as the Jackson Women’s Health Clinic, which flies in two of its three physicians from other states.

—Mississippi also has the nation’s most sweeping so-called “conscience clause,” which allows any health care provider to refuse to provide abortion-related services, including referrals, to those in need.[...]

More Restrictions, Later Abortions

[...]Indeed, a study published in Family Planning Perspectives in 2000 reported that after the 24-hour waiting period was instituted in Mississippi, second-trimester abortions rose by about 53 percent among women closest to an in-state provider.

Hill points out an additional irony that has long been apparent to the pro-choice community. Those opposed to legal abortion also tend to oppose prevention measures that would actually decrease the number of abortions.

No shit. You see, it’s not about decreasing the number of abortions a year with factual information about reproductive health, comprehensive sex-education, encouraging contraception use, making EC over-the-counter, encouraging insurance companies to cover contraception and EC (just as they do with Viagra), and eliminating so called “conscience clauses.” No. It’s about descreasing the number of legal abortions a year by gutting Roe and reproductive rights to the point that women have no other options but to carry the unwanted pregnancy to term, or seek illegal and even fatal means to end the pregnancy.

Nowhere to Run

[...]Larry Rodick, president/CEO of Planned Parenthood of Alabama, Inc., says his staff sees a number of clients from Mississippi at their health centers in Birmingham, Mobile, and Huntsville. Women also visit the health centers of Memphis Regional Planned Parenthood in Tennessee.

But there are no conveniently located options for women living in large areas of Mississippi’s Delta region, the poorest section of Mississippi.

According to Hill, many of these women visit the Jackson clinic, driving a good three or four hours and sleeping in their cars overnight in the parking lot, even in 100-degree weather, because they don’t have enough money to have the surgery and pay for a motel room. Often, they have their children with them, because they can’t afford child care or find someone to care for their children for two days.[...]

Hill also says that the clinic regularly receives phone calls from women asking what they can do to end their pregnancies themselves.[...]

Oh well, I wonder what could have driven them to such desperate measures?

Ignorance Is Bliss

Most women in Mississippi don’t want to discuss their experiences. “We’ve tried to find women who will agree to be interviewed,” says Rodick, “but they are afraid. They worry they may lose their jobs or someone will get punitive with them.”[...]

And perhaps that’s the whole point, says Hill. No matter how many restrictions states put on women seeking abortions, no matter how difficult they make it, she says, we still find that for the last 30 years, an average of 1.3 million American women have had abortions every year. But that number would be considerably lower if lawmakers supported prevention measures that would decrease the number of abortions.[...]

But they won’t. It’s about restricting and even outright eliminating women’s options in regards to their reproductive rights and making them incubators against their will. (Because they were dirty whores and pregnancy should be used as punishment for women having sex, right? Or, women should just shut-up and perform their biological duties to the species, right?) If Roe is overturned, guess which state will become one of the worst states to live in, if you’re a woman who values her ever so tenuous reproductive rights?

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5 Responses to FRONTLINE and Mississippi's last abortion clinic

  1. 1
    c&d says:

    If the court was not filling up with more conservatives, I would think it is time to reconsider the conclusions of McRae and Webster holding that the Government does not have an obligation to fund abortions when it provides other medical care, and that the State may prohibit the use of State employees, land, or facilities for abortion services.

    Both of those cases were based on the presumption that “a pregnant woman [would have] the same choices as if the State had chosen” not to provide any healthcare, or had chosen “not to operate any public hospitals at all.” However, this has proven to not be the case. States are heavily involved in the market for low-income health services. Combined with regulations on clinics, State refusals of service do place women in a significantly worse position.

    These restrictive statutes should not be challenged individually, where each alone is not an “undue burden.” The statutes have a unified purpose, and they should be analyzed in relation to each other.

  2. 2
    reddecca says:

    Thanks for linking to that. I had an idea that abortion access was bad in so areas of the US, but I had no idea it was that bad.

    I’ve always thought that it was the Hyde amendment, more than anything else, that gutted abortion access, but then I come from a country with a public health system, so I look at things a little differently.

  3. 3
    Mary Garden says:

    Thank you for the reminder, pseudo-adrienne! I’d been wanting to see this ep of Frontline and almost forgot it was last night. It was clear watching it how careful the producers felt they had to be, but there were some masterful subtleties (panning in on the confederate flag over the Mississippi state capital building while the voiceover talked about the lieutenant gov’s campaign to make Miss. a pro-life state, etc.). Mostly, it made me want to get pregnant just so I could go to an abortion clinic, face down one of those pro-life hecklers imitating the voice of the fetus and tell him/her to shut the fuck up, because no fetus of mine would never speak in such a saccharine voice.

    The most grimly fascinating thing to me was seeing the women employed in these “pregnancy crisis” centers (the state-funded ones where abortion is never, NEVER mentioned as an option) and the weird, glassy, glowing preciousness of their faces and voices. They clearly had not a thought or concern about what would happen to the poor women they were pressuring to stay pregnant, as long as the fetus was carried to term. After that, it was not their headache. I think these women are a living argument that women need a non-procreative purpose in their lives as much as men do, because clearly, this was all about them – channeling all that hunger for purpose into one of the few areas where the menfolk in their lives and churches would recognize and support their authority and effectiveness. Ugh.

    Anyway, thanks again! I am a frequent reader and fan, but seldom have time to post.

    Best,
    MG

  4. 4
    BadTux says:

    Mississippi is one of the worst states in the nation to live in if you’re *anybody*. Anybody other than a preacher or one of the “old money” elite, that is…

    I’ve been over most of Mississippi and can confidently state that it is a sewer of bigotry, hatred, violence, and ignorance. It is a state where, if you challenge the Christo-fascists or the power elite, you will find your tires slashed, shotgun blasts will come through your window, and if they’re feeling especially bold, you’ll find yourself in prison on bogus charges like in some stupid 1970′s tv show. Guns are everywhere, and are brandished — and even used — on the least of provocations (Mississippi has one of the highest murder rates in the country, ranking 4th in the nation in 2004 despite having no large cities to drive up the murder statistics). Even amongst children, gun violence is endemic. One Mississippi high school principal confided to me that it was to the point where he did not even get nervous when a child pulled a gun on him, he merely pointed out to the kid that there was too many witnesses and the kid would get the electric chair if he pulled that trigger, so put that gun down and let’s talk sense…

    In short, the state is basically a cesspool of violence, poverty, and hate, and frankly it does not surprise me that the powers that be have managed to eliminate every abortion clinic outside of Jackson (Jackson being the only outpost of civilization in Mississippi, and that only tenously thanks to a federal presence there). There is a reason why so much of the black population fled elsewhere after WWII. There is a reason why any Mississippi youth with any brains flees Mississippi as if it were consumed by plague, leaving behind losers, old people, and the power elite and Christo-fascists who enjoy running their little tinpot dictatorship over the dregs left behind. That reason is that Mississippi is a third world outpost in a first world nation, a banana republic under another name, and a disgrace to the nation — as has been true for over 100 years.

    - Badtux the “Been there, seen that” Penguin

  5. I have met many fine people from Mississippi and may have married a Mississippian. I must say she had some international flavor having been a military kid. She is now a missionary somewhere in this world. I have been one also under the same board. I must commend senator Nunelee for taking a stand against abortion. I was born to a single poor mother and had abortion been legal in the fifties I would be here. I have been a teacher nationally and internationally and also done music professiionally. Thanks Mom
    Really thanks to a maternal grandmother who has passed on also
    Stephen