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In defense of abortion clinic

Women activists lead fight against right-wing

Published Aug 6, 2006 8:14 AM

During the week of July 15-22, the right-wing in Jackson, Mississippi, was set back by strong pro-choice forces who gathered to protect the Jackson Women’s Health Organization—the only clinic in the state that performs abortions.

Activists defend abortion clinic in Jackson.
Photo: Mississippi Reproductive Freedom Coalition

“I feel very victorious. There were no arrests, nor was anyone hurt. The clinic didn’t close down. And we got a lot of support and made friends in the community,” Michelle Colón, president of Jackson-area NOW and member of the Mississippi Reproductive Freedom Coalition, told Workers World.

Women’s rights activists sprang into action when they learned that “Operation Save America,” formerly named “Opera tion Rescue,” led by notorious reactionary Flip Benham, was coming to Jackson for a week to try to shut down this facility. Their aim was to make Mississippi the first state to have no clinics providing abortions, and frighten and intimidate women from exercising their reproductive rights. The women were determined to stop the right-wingers who had been trying to shut down this vital clinic for years.

As Colón explained, “This clinic provides critically-needed reproductive health care for low-income women.”

In the last ten years, she said, six clinics in the state had closed due to more restrictive laws and rightwing pressure. Private physicians’ high fees and public hospitals’ restrictive policies limit poor women’s accessibility to services.

NOW and the Mississippi Reproductive Freedom Coalition, which includes Unity Mississippi, a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender organization, planned a week of pro-choice activism, community outreach and education about reproductive healthcare. Women from around the state and from other parts of the country joined in, making up a strong, diverse force of African-American and Asian women and men, LGBT people, and many youth—all opposed to the rightwing attack.

The week of progressive actions started on July 15, when hundreds of women’s rights activists rallied at Smith Street Park in Jackson, outnumbering the reactionaries by ten-to-one. Despite bomb threats and attempted disruptions, the pro-choice rally was held. Supporters there included representatives of Anti-Racist Action, Common Ground, The World Can’t Wait, Radical Women, the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, Mid-South NOW, Feminist Majority, and many pro-choice activists and supporters from throughout Mississippi and beyond.

While in Jackson, the small group of bigots incensed the whole city. With messages of extreme hatred, they vociferously attacked women’s right to choose, the lesbian and gay community and Islam. They harassed the clinic’s staff and clients for eight days with verbally abusive tirades, slurs, signs, and photographs. They harassed churchgoers and drove a car into a crowd of youth.

They even burned the Koran and shredded a rainbow gay pride flag. But these attempts to whip up bigotry and hostility backfired when Jackson residents became outraged at their actions.

Also, solidarity began growing between divergent forces. This was demonstrated at the State Capitol on July 21, when many groups with different views gathered to decry the rightwing and “defend one another when we saw bigotry, hatred and violence being incited by the other side,” said Colón.

The week of activism concluded the next day with a March for Women’s Lives that gathered at the State Capitol in memory of women who had died from botched abortions worldwide.

But the struggle is far from over. Mississippi is a key state in the national struggle for reproductive rights and one of the most restrictive in the country, where as in many states, low-income and young women face the toughest hurdles in getting their reproductive health care needs met.

State officials there seek a strict abortion ban or at least a reduction in abortion access. The Democrats and Republicans officially oppose abortion rights. In March, rightwingers in the state legislature, where the balconies were packed with reproductive rights activists and supporters, tried to, but failed to pass a restrictive abortion ban. Alleged pro-choice legislatures caved-in to the other side and abstained on the vote on the ban.

But Colón expressed her optimism about the struggle ahead for crucial women’s reproductive rights as the pro-choice movement develops in her state. She told of the formation five months ago of the Mississippi Reproductive Freedom Coalition, when “a small group of women of color came together then, and for a whole month, we outnumbered anti-choice representatives in Jackson.”

Colón told of the readiness of women activists to mobilize in the months ahead —against intimidation by rightwing groups, to gain reproductive healthcare for Mississippi women, especially those who are low-income, and to stop a state ban on abortion. She told WW that this is a “human rights issue,” and that “the Mississippi pro-choice voice will fight to provide reproductive healthcare.”