What America Can Learn From Mississippi's Last Remaining Abortion Clinic

When states limit abortion access to “protect” women, it’s women they hurt the most.
Jackson's Women's Health Organization, Mississippi's one remaining abortion provider.
Jackson's Women's Health Organization, Mississippi's one remaining abortion provider.

"Here we go again."

These are words spoken by Shannon Brewer, director of Jackson Women's Health Organization: the last abortion clinic left in Mississippi. Her words represent the collective exhaustion felt by the pro-abortion rights community, which waits with bated breath as the Supreme Court prepares to rule on Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt early next week. 

They are also the opening words of "JACKSON," a heartbreaking documentary portrayal of what abortion restrictions mean for the women of a Bible Belt state mired in economic, social and racial inequity -- and a bleak glimpse of what the future of America might look like if the Supreme Court decides to allow state governments to enforce needless restrictions on abortion clinics. 

In the documentary's first scene, Brewer drives to work past a throng of anti-abortion protestors lined up outside the clinic, on the sidewalks and in the parking lot. As Brewer walks through the doors into the clinic, the audience briefly inhabits a world that Mississippi women experience every day: the judgement, shame, and stigma of seeking women's health care in the state's only clinic that provides it fully. 

Pro-abortion rights and anti-abortion protestors gather outside of the Jackson Women's Health Organization.
Pro-abortion rights and anti-abortion protestors gather outside of the Jackson Women's Health Organization.

Filmmaker Maisie Crow directed the documentary. "This isn't an advocacy film. It's a truth-telling film," Crow told The Huffington Post. While she didn't go into making the documentary with any specific agenda, Crow said the stories themselves make the case for how damaging anti-abortion legislation is. 

In 2012, Crow read that Jackson Women's Health Organization was the last remaining abortion clinic in the entire state of Mississippi. The filmmaker said she was "shocked." She knew that this was a story she needed to tell. 

"I got on a plane and flew down there the next day," she said, and went straight to Jackson to meet with Brewer and start documenting what life is really like for women in a state with one abortion clinic. 

A Jackson, Mississippi billboard. 
A Jackson, Mississippi billboard. 

"JACKSON" was released earlier this month, four years after Crow's arrival in Mississippi -- and the timing of its release could not be more crucial. Any day now, the Supreme Court will announce its ruling on Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt, perhaps the most important abortion case in over two decades.

In 1992, the Supreme Court ruled in Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey that state governments could not place an "undue burden" on abortion clinics that ultimately prevents women from being able to access care. Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt is a similar case, with potentially devastating consequences: If the Supreme Court rules in favor of Texas's anti-abortion bill H.B. 2, this would set a nationwide precedent, allowing state goverments to adopt harmful legislation that would restrict abortion access. 

But among all of the policy-talk and politicizing of women's bodies in the courts and on the campaign trail is the actual effect that lack of health care and abortion access has on women, which makes "JACKSON" such a timely and necessary film.  

The documentary is centered around the story of one woman in particular. April Jackson is a 24-year-old pregnant mother of four who, according to Brewer, represents an incredibly common story for young pregnant women in Mississippi. Grappling with an unplanned pregnancy in an environment where contraception and abortion are hugely stigmatized, she finds herself relying on a Jackson-based Crisis Pregnancy Center, and the support of the center's adamant anti-abortion director, Barbara Beavers.

April Jackson, with one of her children. 
April Jackson, with one of her children. 

Through April's heartbreaking story we see what life without access to reproductive health care looks like for so many women: poverty, depression, lack of education and lack of child care. 

Women in situations like April's -- lacking access to education, critical services and left with few options -- are particularly susceptible to an often overlooked part of the anti-abortion movement: the Crisis Pregnancy Centers (CPCs) that typically set up shop near local abortion clinics to offer support to women who are struggling with what to do about an unexpected pregnancy. 

CPCs are local centers where pregnant and often vulnerable women are manipulated into carrying their pregnancies to term instead of having an abortion. Many of them are partially funded by the government. 

Baby clothes, diapers and baby beds are offered in exchange for faith-based and anti-abortion, abstinence-only counseling. From the outside they look like medical centers, but offer absolutely no medical services, short of an occasional sonogram. 

Barbara Beavers, Director of Jackson's Center for Pregnancy Choices
Barbara Beavers, Director of Jackson's Center for Pregnancy Choices

Through April's story, and in witnessing her relationship with the CPC and Barbara Beavers, we learn that once the babies are born, there is a phenomenally disappointing lack of follow-up, long-term support.

In Brewer's role as director of Mississippi's last abortion clinic, she witnesses the many anti-abortion protestors who flock to women outside the clinic and who urge those women to call the CPCs instead. Brewer told HuffPost that the most insiduous aspect of these CPCs is the way that they instill a sense of "false hope" for young women who already have so little by making women think that they will have support, and that they will not have to raise their babies on their own. "By the time they realize that it's false hope, they've already had another baby, and they're already in the same situation or a worse situation," she said. 

But being led on by help and support (as well as necessary material objects) is such a tempting offer when there is so much stigma around abortion, Brewer told HuffPost. At the CPC, no one yells. There are no protestors telling women that they'll go to hell. There are no gruesome, heavily doctored photos of aborted fetuses. Brewer, a Mississippi native herself, said that people "don't ever just sit around and talk about abortion. The word 'abortion' doesn't even come up in your household. It's a hush-hush thing. In the south...it is a shameful, shameful act."

Crow, who's from south Texas and is no stranger to anti-abortion rhetoric, agreed:

One thing you have to understand, and it's hard for people to understand who don't live in a place like the Bible Belt, is the stigma and shame that exist in a place like Mississippi. It makes it almost impossible to even think that going and having an abortion is even something they can do. That's the scariest part. If you want to have an abortion...there are women who are drinking Clorox. 

In Mississippi, CPCs outweigh abortion clinics 38 to one. In Texas, there are over 100 CPCs while abortion providers all over the massive state continue to close their doors after failing to meet absurd state regulations, leaving women across Texas with easier access to CPCs than women's health centers. 

"Barbara gave [April] just a little bit of positivity...but they take it back as soon as the baby is born," Brewer
"Barbara gave [April] just a little bit of positivity...but they take it back as soon as the baby is born," Brewer said.

The CPCs receive funding from religious anti-abortion groups, and offer no long-term benefits whatsoever; contraceptive counseling is completely off the table. Instead, pregnant women sit in counseling sessions with unqualified counselors who encourage praying and abstinence. 

In 2014, NARAL investigated many of Texas's CPCs and found that, "many CPCs present themselves as medical clinics even though they are not health care facilities and the information they provide about abortion and sexual health is largely inaccurate." On top of the way that CPCs target vulnerable women and provide no actual support, these CPCs are also a total waste of taxpayer dollars.

NARAL found that an existing state program actually funds, as of 2014, 38 of Texas's CPCs. According to NARAL's investigation, "As of 2014, there are 38 CPCs that receive state funding through the Texas Pregnancy Care Network (TPCN), the sole contractor of the Texas Alternatives to Abortion Program. The TPCN disperses their money to CPCs, adoption agencies and maternity homes. As of 2014, 62 percent of the funded organizations are CPCs."

A protestor reads bible verses outside of Jackson's abortion clinic. 
A protestor reads bible verses outside of Jackson's abortion clinic. 

More and more women in Texas are already leaving the state to have abortions -- an expensive and not always accessible option -- and the prevalence of CPCs is growing. On Tuesday of this week, Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin had Lexington's remaining abortion clinic closed, resulting in a clinic in Louisville being the state's last abortion provider. Clinics all over America have faced anti-abortion legislations, making access for women increasingly difficult. 

In almost every month of 2016, women's access to reproductive health care has been threatened. As early as next week, the Supreme Court could rule on Whole Woman's Health vs. Hellerstedt, thus dictating whether more and more women across American will share April's fate. 

"JACKSON" serves as a grim warning of what restrictive abortion legislation across the U.S. actually looks like for the people it affects the most: women. 

Here we go again. 

Watch Shannon Brewer and Maisie Crow in an interview with The Huffington Post below. 



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