The Militant (logo)  
   Vol. 70/No. 28           July 31, 2006  
Women’s rights backers defend
abortion clinic in Mississippi
(front page)
JACKSON, Mississippi—“The clinic opened today and will remain open for women in Mississippi,” said Michele Colon, president of the Jackson Area National Organization for Women (NOW), speaking to more than 200 people at Smith Park in downtown Jackson July 15. The rally kicked off Reproductive Freedom Summer, a weeklong series of actions in defense of a woman’s right to choose abortion.

The women’s rights supporters outnumbered the 30-40 members of Operation Save America, a group campaigning to make abortion a crime, who that day picketed the Jackson Women’s Health Organization—the only abortion clinic that remains open in Mississippi—with the stated purpose of shutting it down.

Sponsors of Reproductive Freedom Summer here include the Mississippi American Civil Liberties Union, Feminist Majority, UNITY Mississippi, and NOW. Other organizations have sent delegations, mostly from surrounding states, to participate.

Operation Save America, formerly Operation Rescue, is organizing a “siege” of the clinic July 15-22. “Mississippi could become the first abortion-free state in our country,” said Philip Benhan, head of the rightist group.

The Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which opened in 1995, treats about 4,000 patients a year.

Christie Swatzill, 28, who volunteers at Planned Parenthood, drove here from Memphis with friend Chellie Bowman to participate in the women’s rights action. “I came because abortion is a fundamental right for women,” said Swatzill. “Wealthy women will always be able to have an abortion. Banning abortion will affect poor and minority women.”

Shavondra Washington and Lasonja Johnson are both 13 years old. They came from Ruleville and Sunflower, Mississippi, respectively. “Only the woman should decide what to do with her own body,” Washington told the Militant.

“At home I got a room full of women supporting me being here,” said Tiffine Jones, 26, a telecommunications worker and member of Communications Workers of America Local 3570 in Jackson. “If they close the clinic, what are the girls in Clarksdale, Greenwood, up in the Delta going to do?”

Kim Gandy, national president of NOW, spoke at the rally. “I remember when women didn’t have a choice,” she began. “They just went away to an aunt or cousin and years later you learned what happened to them,” she said, referring to back-alley and botched abortions. “We are not going back to that again.”

Carolyn Townes, a social worker in Jackson attending the rally, said she was a part of the 1993 fight against Operation Rescue here. “We were well-organized,” she said. “We escorted women to their appointments by car, delivering them right to the clinic away from Operation Rescue. The doctors performed medical treatments uninterrupted.”

Several clinics in the state have closed over the past decade.

Halfway through the July 15 action, police forced protesters to evacuate the park, saying there had been a bomb threat. Jackson police chief Tyrone Lewis later said that a “suspicious package” dropped in a trash can was not an “explosive device,” USA Today reported.

Nine opponents of a woman’s right to choose abortion have been arrested so far by Jackson police, according to the Jackson Clarion-Ledger. Charges included obstructing traffic, disorderly conduct, and assembling on a public sidewalk without a city permit. The same laws are being used against the pro-choice protesters.

On July 17, about 100 supporters of Operation Save America gathered on the steps of the Mississippi State House to sign an “Emancipation Proclamation” of unborn fetuses.

“These babies need to be emancipated from those that want to shed their innocent blood,” said Ronnie Wallace, a minister from North Carolina. “Susan Hill is killing Black babies,” he said, referring to the owner of the abortion clinic here.

Seventy-two percent of women who obtain abortions in Mississippi are Black.

“I have met hundreds of women at the abortion mill that have regretted getting abortions,” said Christian Sugar, 18, who came from Charlotte, North Carolina, as a part of Operation Save America. “Why should the child pay for the sins of its parents?” her 23-year-old sister Danielle Sugar added.

Many of the 40 people who gathered at the pro-choice protest across the State House lawn July 17 disagreed. “The fact that they are calling this an ‘Emancipation Proclamation’ is a complete insult to my history,” said Shawna Davie, 22, a coordinator of the Mississippi Reproductive Freedom Project. “I don’t want my history to be trivialized,” she said, referring to the struggle for Black freedom.

Mississippi currently has some of the most stringent restrictions on abortion in the United States. Women are required to receive counseling and then wait for 24 hours before getting an abortion. Those younger than 18 have to obtain consent from both parents. State law also bars women from having an abortion after 12 weeks of pregnancy. Because this is the only clinic in the state, many women have to drive hundreds of miles to get here, taking days off work to do so. Women’s rights supporters are organizing a march July 22 to the Capitol to culminate their activities. Protesters will gather near the Mississippi State Fairgrounds on Jefferson and High streets at 10:00 a.m. and then march downtown.

Dave Ferguson from Birmingham and Lisa Potash from Atlanta contributed to this article.  
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