January 23, 2022

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Supreme Court abortion case: Mississippi advocates strategize for a post-Roe world – NBC News

3 min read

JACKSON, Miss. — As the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments Wednesday about reversing a nearly 50-year precedent on abortion rights, a young woman wearing a “Bans off my body” T-shirt walked up to a white poster in a downtown Jackson hotel ballroom.

Several members and supporters of the Mississippi Abortion Access Coalition had jotted down messages on an array of pink, blue and orange sticky notes — what they would want to say to the justices.

“I remember having to go to Cuba or Sweden for abortion. Not again.”

“Protect Black Women.”

She added the latest in pink ink on a neon green note:

“Understand the power you hold and the real lives this impacts.”

The racially diverse group gathered around linen-covered tables in the Westin were only a few miles away from the state’s only abortion clinic, the Jackson Women’s Health Organization, whose lawyers were before the court in Washington on Wednesday morning. It was clear to many in the ballroom that the ability of patients in Mississippi to obtain abortions — and, indeed, the fate of abortion rights nationwide — hinged on the pending decision.

Dec. 2, 202102:27

Members of the Mississippi Abortion Access Coalition were not optimistic that the Supreme Court will rule in their favor next year — instead, they were steeling themselves for more restrictions in a state where it is already difficult to get an abortion. 

“We’re not going to go underground,” said Valencia Robinson, the executive director of Mississippi in Action, which advocates for people living with HIV and provides education about sexual health. She and others said they were already working to mobilize supporters who could assist with transportation to the Jackson clinic and help with the financial barriers that often impede abortion access.

Abortion rights advocate Valencia Robinson cheers at a rally in Jackson. Rory Doyle for NBC News

A 2018 Mississippi law largely banning abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy set the stage for this moment. The restrictions, which were struck down by lower courts and never enforced, defy the Supreme Court’s 1973 ruling in Roe v. Wade, which enshrined abortion rights before fetal viability, or the stage at which a fetus can survive outside the womb. Medical experts say the benchmark is between 23 and 24 weeks, well after the point Mississippi seeks to curtail access. In arguing for the law, Mississippi is asking the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade. 

Neighboring Louisiana is one of several states with trigger laws that would widely make abortion illegal if the landmark 1973 ruling falls. Lakeesha Harris, an activist from Louisiana who traveled to Jackson to speak at an abortion rights rally Wednesday, reminded the crowd that the consequences of what started as a state-level restriction in Mississippi do not exist in a silo.

“It affects Louisiana,” she said. “It affects Texas. Oppression does not know the boundary of state lines.”

Wednesday’s oral arguments made it clear that the layered barriers — both legislative and cultural — that had left Mississippi as the only state in the Deep South with a sole abortion clinic were not contained within the state’s borders.  

“While the rest of the country is getting ready to feel what it’s like to be Mississippi … we’ve still been experiencing a post-Roe climate,” said Michelle Colon, a member of the Mississippi Abortion Access Coalition who founded SHERo Mississippi, a reproductive justice collective led by Black women. “If you only have one clinic, that’s a huge obstacle to access.”

The night before members of the Mississippi Abortion Access Coalition gathered to listen to the Supreme Court arguments that could dismantle Roe v. Wade, abortion rights opponents stood in front of the Jackson Women’s Health Organization to pray for that very outcome.

“This case tomorrow could make Mississippi the first domino to fall,” said Steve Karlen, the campaign director of 40 Days for Life, a nonprofit organization that spearheads annual vigils against abortion. 

A speaker shared his dream that the “Pink House,” as the facility is known for its pastel hue, would become a church. 

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