Mississippi abortion activists protest as justices weigh ban

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Abortion opponent Alisha Parnell of Gulfport, cries as she offers silent prayer while wearing a tape across her mouth with the word "Life" written across it, while standing outside the Jackson Women's Health Organization, a state-licensed abortion clinic in Jackson, Miss., Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021. A group of anti-abortion activists stood outside the clinic in an effort to dissuade patients from entering. On Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court heard a case that directly challenges the constitutional right to an abortion established nearly 50 years ago. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

JACKSON, Miss. – Supporters and opponents of abortion rights rallied, blared music and shouted taunts Wednesday during protests in Mississippi's capital as the state took center stage in a pivotal U.S. Supreme Court case that could end a nationwide right to abortion.

Outside Mississippi’s only abortion clinic, men took turns on a loudspeaker urging women to repent of their sins and keep their pregnancies. Some protesters carried graphic posters depicting aborted fetuses.

“What crime has your child committed to deserve to have its arms and its legs pulled off of its body and its head crushed in the womb?” Gabriel Olivier said over a microphone as he paced outside the fence of the clinic in Jackson.

Hours later, more than a 100 people attended an abortion rights rally at a Jackson park near the Governor's Mansion, some holding signs reading “Abortion Heals” and “SCOTUS Can’t Control Our Destiny — We Do.”

A group of preachers walked into the crowd waving red Bibles and shouting scripture as they tried to drown out speakers. Abortion-rights supporters surrounded the preachers and held signs above their heads.

During the rally, Mississippi resident Patricia Ice spoke about receiving an illegal abortion in Michigan when she was a teenager in the late 1960s.

“The boyfriend wasn’t so committed to me or the relationship," Ice said. "I was too young to get married.”

Ice said her boyfriend found a woman in Detroit who claimed to be a nurse and said she would do the procedure for $350. Ice said she went home after the abortion terrified she would have complications. She said she couldn't tell friends or family because they would have been upset.

“I don’t want us to have to go back to those days,” Ice said. “I don’t want to go back 50 years to those days — thinking about it makes me shudder.”

Hundreds of demonstrators also gathered outside the U.S. Supreme Court Wednesday as the justices heard nearly two hours of arguments about a 2018 Mississippi law that would ban most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

The Supreme Court has never allowed states to ban abortion before viability, the point at roughly 24 weeks when a fetus can survive outside the womb. But the court’s conservative majority signaled it would uphold the Mississippi law and may overturn a nationwide right to abortion that has existed for nearly 50 years under the court’s Roe v. Wade decision.

The office of Mississippi’s Republican attorney general, Lynn Fitch, asked the court — remade with three conservative justices nominated by former President Donald Trump — to use the case to overturn the 1973 ruling.

Her office co-sponsored a gathering at an agriculture museum in Jackson for people to listen to the court arguments.

“Each and every state is different, and we need to recognize that Mississippi has been trampled on by other states and other beliefs,” said Omarr Peters, with Students for Life, which helped organize the event.

Andy Gipson, a Republican who co-sponsored the Mississippi abortion legislation, said lawmakers sensed their bill was historic, and he had the same feeling during the court’s arguments. Gipson, now the state’s agriculture commissioner, said he wants people decades from now to remember Mississippi was not afraid to “take a stand for life.”

Mississippi’s only abortion clinic, Jackson Women’s Health Organization, recently doubled its hours to treat women from Texas, where a law took effect in early September banning most abortions at about six weeks, and from Louisiana, where clinics are filling with Texas patients.

As patients arrived Wednesday, some protesters tried to stop them to talk. Clinic escorts wearing rainbow-striped vests directed patients’ cars into a parking lot and walked with the women from their vehicles into the building. Music blared from inside the clinic fence to try to drown the protesters out.

Cory Drake, one of the clinic escorts, said anti-abortion protesters often harass patients who have already made up their minds to end their pregnancies.

“I’m tired, have been tired for a while, of women being second-class citizens, not being able to have access to medical facilities as everyone else should, and of being harassed when they should have the ability to see a doctor," Drake said.

A Supreme Court decision is likely months away, and the Jackson clinic will continue operating. The clinic — known by supporters as the Pink House — is in Jackson’s eclectic Fondren neighborhood, a short drive from the Mississippi Capitol, where legislators have been voting to restrict abortion access for decades. On many days, the clinic is enveloped by a cacophony of noise from bullhorn-wielding protesters outside its fence and clinic escorts who blare rock music inside the perimeter.

The clinic’s director, Shannon Brewer, said Wednesday from Washington that it was “energizing” to be around abortion rights supporters in the nation's capital but waiting several months for a decision will be difficult. In the meantime, she said: “We're going to keep seeing patients ... as many days as we can.”


Associated Press writer Sudhin Thanawala in Atlanta contributed to this report.


Follow Emily Wagster Pettus on Twitter at http://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus.