The Last Abortion Clinic In Mississippi

This article was originally published on June 27, 2017. We're bringing it to your attention in light of International Safe Abortion Day today.

Just beyond the parking lot of the Jackson Women's Health Center in Mississippi, protesters gather, brandishing signs, singing hymns, and clutching their Bibles. Escorts and security guards hold the line between the protestors and the women entering the clinic, but the protesters raise their voices for all to hear.

"Mommy, mommy, don't kill me, mommy," a man in a pro-life T-shirt says to a woman approaching the clinic. A child among the protesters calls out, "In the end, there will be judgment!"

As the last abortion clinic in Mississippi, the Health Center has become the front line of the state's war on reproductive rights. On one side of the parking lot stand the doctors who wish to protect women's right to choose, and on the other stand those who'd like to see the clinic shut down for good. This contentious fight has been documented by Maisie Crow, a documentary film director, cinematographer, and photographer.

After finishing The Last Clinic, her short film about the Health Center, Crow started working on another film, Jackson, a full-length version that tells the story of abortion access in Mississippi from all angles. In fact, Jackson features abortion providers and crisis pregnancy center (CPC) employees in equal measure.

For those who aren't familiar with CPCs, they are essentially offices that work to deter women from having abortions. The tactics they use involve false information and emotional manipulation, and they're usually in close proximity to actual abortion clinics — it's not uncommon for CPC employees to intercept women on their way to terminate a pregnancy.

Crow says that the goals of a CPC go well beyond stopping an abortion. Oftentimes, women leave these facilities believing that giving birth is their only "real" option. That's exactly the impression that April Jackson, the pregnant mother of four whom Crow features in Jackson, came away with.

"She didn’t know that she could go to the [abortion] clinic, or [she] was too fearful to go because of what the anti-abortion movement had instilled in her," Crow says. "In places like Mississippi, the anti-abortion movement’s message is just so much louder than the message for choice."

And according to Crow, that's exactly what the Jackson Women's Health Center is working to counteract: Its goal is to promote choice. "Not to provide women necessarily with abortions, but to provide women with the option to have an abortion," she says.

This message lies at the heart of Jackson, and all of Crow's work in Mississippi, for that matter. Abortion isn't accessible simply when a clinic is allowed to remain open. It's accessible when women have the information, resources, and emotional space to decide for themselves whether they're going to walk into that clinic in the first place.

Throughout her time filming in Mississippi, Crow shot still photos of the clinic and the people in and around it. On the one-year anniversary of the Supreme Court's decision to strike down abortion restrictions in Texas, we're bringing Crow's images to your attention as a reminder of the state of abortion access nationwide. "We need to work hard for the people in Mississippi, but we also need to be aware that this is happening across the country," Crow says.

Ahead, view a selection of Crow's work and read about her experiences in her own words.

"Ester Mann, an anti-abortion protestor and self-proclaimed sidewalk counselor, stations herself at the edge of the clinic’s parking lot, the closest she can legally get to the facility, in an effort to stop women from going inside. She spends the morning reading scripture out of her bedazzled Bible, only stopping if she suspects an approaching car is dropping off a patient."
"A patient waits for an abortion procedure at Jackson Women's Health Organization, Mississippi’s only remaining abortion clinic. All providers who work at the clinic must travel in from out of state. The clinic has had difficulty finding local doctors because of the hostility towards abortion providers in Mississippi."
"Anti-abortion protestors stand outside of Jackson Women's Health Organization as women arrive at the beginning of the day for counseling sessions. Women must receive counseling at least 24 hours in advance of getting the procedure because of a state law. This means that women are forced to come and go for two appointments at the clinic, passing by protestors each time they enter and exit."
"Matt Friedeman, a professor at Wesley Biblical Seminary, and other anti-abortion protestors sing outside the front gates of Jackson Women's Health Center as women arrive for a counseling session."
"Angela Orey, an administrative assistant at the clinic, watches anti-abortion protesters outside of the clinic from the front desk. Having worked at Jackson Women's Health Organization for 12 years, what she sees beyond the windows is something she's had to become accustomed to in order to work there."
"Mario Funches, a clinic security guard, gathers pro-choice signs placed by clinic escorts and clinic staff alongside the clinic fence, which they use to block the view of anti-abortion protestors seeking to dissuade women from entering."
"Roy Benjamin, IV, a clinic security guard, waits for Dr. Willie Parker to arrive so that he can escort him inside. The guards are responsible for ensuring the safety of the patients and the clinic’s staff."
"Dr. Willie Parker is one of three doctors who travel to Mississippi to provide abortion care at the state’s last clinic, Jackson Women’s Health Organization. Dr. Parker has become a vocal advocate of reproductive rights, traveling the country to speak about the importance of abortion access and choice. He often points to his faith as the thing that empowered him to be an abortion provider."

*Dr. Parker no longer provides abortions at this specific clinic (he now mainly works in Alabama and Georgia, two states that are comparably restrictive to Mississippi). You can read more about his work — and how his Christian faith informs it — in our Q&A with him from earlier this year.
"Aarimis Armstrong, 21, a scrub technician, prepares to weigh a specimen after an abortion procedure. Armstrong began working at the clinic a week after she had her own abortion there. She said she wanted to use her experience of what it felt like to make the decision. Having an abortion, she said, had been the only option for her."
"Miriam, 21, at a pre-operation counseling session. Patients are required to wait 24 hours before having an abortion. Prior to that, they must fill out paperwork, receive an ultrasound, undergo counseling, and speak with a doctor about the procedure."
"Ron Nederhoed, an anti-abortion protestor, stands outside of the clinic with a huge sign reading 'abortionist,' a term anti-abortion protestors seem to use to try to disrespect doctors who provide abortion care."
"April Jackson holds one of her newborn twins shortly after giving birth last year. April, now a mother of seven, turned to the Center for Pregnancy Choices with many of her previous pregnancies. The anti-abortion organization has an agenda to stop women with unwanted pregnancies from seeking abortion. They often push an abstinence-only agenda and dissuade women from using contraceptives."
Check out the trailer for Jackson and look for a screening near you here.
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