Since April of last year, the Jackson Women’s Health Organization has been struggling to stay open. Jackson is the last abortion provider in Mississippi, a state that leads the country in teen birth rates.
In April, Governor Phil Bryant (R) signed in a new law which states that any doctor performing an abortion in the state is required to have hospital admitting privileges. The clinic has since applied for admitting privileges with seven local hospitals and been rejected from each and every one. In accordance with state law, healthcare facilities are allowed to refuse medical service on religious grounds.
The hospitals reportedly rejected requests by these physicians to receive admitting privileges because their medical practice “is inconsistent with this Hospital’s policies and practices as concerns abortion and, in particular, elective abortions” and that admitting them “would lead to both an internal and external disruption of the Hospital’s function and business within this community.”
The clinic, which in 2011 served close to 2,000 patients, the majority of which being low-income and teenage women, received a notice stating that the state health department will revoke its operating license. To put that in perspective, Mississippi had a poverty rate of 22.6 in 2011, and many of these low-income women will have to go to a clinic three hours away over the state line if the Jackson clinic is forced to closed. In addition to transportation costs, childcare, and time off work, women would have to put up money for hotels to adhere to mandatory 72-hour waiting periods in neighboring states, as well as find the money for the $450 procedure itself. This would put an undue burden on these women, effectively making it impossible for them to terminate an unwanted pregnancy.
According to Michelle Movahed, the staff attorney for the center, “This unconstitutional law has essentially handed over the fate of Mississippi women’s reproductive health care to hospital administrators.” [x]
In 1981 there were 14 abortion clinics in the state of Mississippi, now the only two physicians providing abortions fly into the state to its only remaining clinic. However, systematically closing down the state’s abortion care providers isn’t the only way the state has limited a woman’s ability to choose. Due to several prohibitive measures that have been passed in recent years, Mississippi now has the lowest abortion rate in the country at 5%, compared to 19% nationally. Abortion clinics in Mississippi, unlike other medical offices, are required to adhere to the same building codes as hospitals. Minors in the state need the consent of both parents before receiving an abortion, and abortions are only legal in clinics up to 16 weeks. Additionally, sonograms must be performed and the patient must be given the opportunity to see the image and listen to the fetal heartbeat. All women seeking an abortion in the state must receive counseling from a doctor and then wait 24-hours before the procedure.
As if all of this wasn’t enough, Republican Senator Angela Burks Hill recently sponsored Senate Bill 2795, a bill which would attempt to limit the availability of medications such as mifepristone and misoprostol which induce abortions. The bill would make it illegal for a woman to take the pills seven weeks after their last menstruation, despite the fact that most doctors currently prescribe it up to nine weeks. To add insult to injury, the bill will also require a woman to return to her doctor’s office to take the misoprostol instead of her previous option of taking it at home. This would result in four required visits for a woman seeking to end a pregnancy via medication, a requirement that may not be financially feasible for all of Mississippi’s women. On February 5th, the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee approved the measure, which will go to the Senate for further debate.
Mississippi’s attack on women and on reproductive rights is truly atrocious. Despite being legal in the United States, these proposed measure are essentially making abortion impossible for the low-income women who live there. Essentially forcing these women to give birth to unwanted children that they may not have the means to support perpetuates a cycle of poverty that can be almost impossible to escape.
Access to birth control and abortion are two of the greatest tools that women have in their arsenal to achieve the same economic freedom as their male counterparts. When women are unable to control when they want to start a family and under what circumstances they are essentially stripped of their abilities to succeed in a job market where they are in constant competition with men who do not face the same challenges. Abortion rights are a women’s issue, a class issue, and a race issue. It’s about the power to choose. When Mississippi, a state with the highest teen pregnancy rate and one of the highest poverty rates, chooses to deny women this fundamental control over their future economic prospects, they are holding women back and keeping them in a state of oppression.
What happens to Mississippi’s last abortion clinic is important for us all. It is a warning of what could happen if we don’t fight to protect the rights of women everywhere.
Written by Kelsey Bain