The fight to keep Mississippi’s only abortion clinic open

In the heart of the arts district of Jackson, Mississippi – a place that nicknamed itself the City of Soul – sits a bubble gum pink stucco building.

Facing it is another vibrant structure: an iconic blue and canary-coloured retail and residential property called Fondren Corner. Against this funky backdrop, at first glance the modest pink house with its green metal roof appears as welcoming as its eclectic surroundings.

But looks can be deceiving.

On closer inspection, access – and even the view of the front door – is blocked by fencing reinforced with opaque black tarpaulin and placards. Posted on the barriers that leave an opening only for the driveway are bright yellow ‘NO TRESPASSING’ signs.

Meanwhile, on the pavement outside the building, two groups can often be seen clashing several times a week from early morning to late afternoon, as women enter and exit.

Known as ‘The Pink House’, the property has served as the only abortion clinic to the whole of Mississippi since 2006.

One of the groups who like to station themselves outside is made up of pro-life activists, including a large family spreading the gospel of God under the name ‘By All Means Ministries’. They are also the reason that the other set of people, known as the Pink House Defenders, exist. They act – as their colorful vests say – as ‘clinic escort’, making sure patients get in and out safely.

Watching as a car approaches the driveway on a recent Tuesday morning, a pro-life advocate who is clutching a sign with an image of a fetus, pleads at the vehicle: ‘Look at this, don’t do this to your baby. This is a baby murdered in an abortion mill’.

Meanwhile, others thrust bundles of pamphlets titled, ‘Life in the womb’, ‘A modern day Holocaust’, and ‘Are you a good person?’ at passengers through their rolled-down car window.

Staying calm and collected, the volunteers in their rainbow vests manage to usher the vehicle past the commotion into the parking lot, while deftly guiding another car pulling out.

‘So you’re going to kill your baby?’ a man with a megaphone yells at the departing vehicle.

Turning to the shouter, Derenda Hancock, a co-organiser of the Pink House Defenders says nonchalantly, ‘That means move, Coleman.’

Pro-life activist Coleman Boyd (left) holds a sign discouraging abortions outside the Jackson Women’s Health Organization as the Pink House Defenders co-organizer Derenda Hancock (right) keeps watch (Picture: MetroUK/Jessica Kwong)

Coleman Boyd, an emergency room doctor who leads the pro-life group and spends most of his time spreading the Christian ministry, replies sarcastically, ‘Derenda, love my sweet baby?’

Derenda simply retorts: ‘No, I’m as deaf as he is’, referring to the fetus on his sign, and giving Coleman the middle finger.

This overcast, misty Tuesday morning is a typical scene on days that The Pink House – officially called the Jackson Women’s Health Organization – is open for appointments.

It is the state’s only abortion clinic and is desperately fighting to keep serving women, in light of a Mississippi law that bans abortions past 15 weeks of pregnancy.

Although in England, Scotland and Wales, you can legally have an abortion at up to 23 weeks and six days of pregnancy, in line with the Abortion Act 1967 – while in Ireland and Northern Ireland, it’s 12 weeks – in America abortion limits vary from state to state.

The Jackson Women’s Health Organization, known as The Pink House, is the only abortion clinic left in Mississippi (Picture: MetroUK/Jessica Kwong)

‘This clinic has been the most important thing in the whole area,’ Derenda, 62, tells

‘It’s been a possibility it can get shut down for many years now. I mean, it’s been fighting for its life.

‘They’re constantly fighting to keep the doors open so what happens if it’s shut down? Women are forced to bear children they don’t want.’

The Pink House is no stranger to controversy. Several Mississippi Republicans have attempted to close it down over the years, while in 2015 the clinic was severely vandalised. CCTV caught a masked intruder who tried to destroy the generator and took out several security cameras.

However, it’s most recent battle saw it take centre stage in a case heard yesterday by the Supreme Court, that has the potential to overturn Roe v Wade, which established a constitutional right to abortion. The landmark 1973 ruling also prohibited states from banning the procedure before fetal viability, which most experts say is around 23 weeks.

People demonstrate in front of the US Supreme Court on Wednesday as it heard opening arguments in a case from Mississippi, where a 2018 law bans abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, which is well before most experts determine fetal viability (Picture: AP)

In Thomas E Dobbs, State Health Officer of the Mississippi Department of Health v Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the high court is weighing the constitutionality of a 2018 Mississippi law which prohibited abortions after 15 weeks.

The Jackson Women’s Health Organization had presented evidence to a federal appeals court that fetal viability is not possible at 15 weeks, and the court agreed. However, the state appealed to the Supreme Court, which accepted the case.

Mississippi has asked the high court to overturn Roe v Wade.

After hearing arguments, the fate of the clinic hangs in the balance as justices now consider reversing Roe, which would prevent women from accessing abortion care.

Supreme Court hears Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health

After two hours of oral arguments in Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health on Wednesday, the Supreme Court seemed poised to uphold Mississippi’s law banning abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

A ruling of that nature would run counter to Roe v Wade, its landmark 1873 decision that declared a nationwide constitutional right to abortion.

Conservative justice Clarence Thomas challenged the notion of a constitutional right to abortion, saying it is not clearly spelled out compared to the Second Amendment stating ‘the right to bear arms’.

But the high court’s six conservative justices, who hold the majority, appeared divided on whether to stop abortions at 15 weeks into a pregnancy, or to completely overrule Roe, which would allow states to prohibit abortions at any point in time.

Meanwhile, the court’s three liberal justices were insistent that Roe should stand.

A major objective of the precedent is ‘to prevent people from thinking that this court is a political institution that will go back and forth depending on what part of the public yells the loudest’, Justice Elena Kagan said.

If Roe is overturned, at least 20 states including Mississippi – where The Pink House is the state’s last operating abortion clinic – would immediately or quickly deem nearly all abortions unlawful.

In the coming days, justices will cast their tentative votes at a private conference. Then, a senior justice will assign the majority opinion to a colleague or keep it.

The Supreme Court has averaged about three months to issue a decision, but a ruling in this case may not come until late June or early July.

‘If we lose then what’s likely to happen is Roe would be overturned,’ explains Derenda, who along with other Pink House Defenders volunteers her time eight hours a day on the days the clinic is open.

‘If that happens, there’s a trigger law on the books in Mississippi so within 24 hours, the clinic would be shut down.’

A Pink House Defenders volunteer wearing a ‘clinic escort’ vest walks a woman to her appointment at the Jackson Women’s Health Organization, as seen through a gap in a black tarpaulin concealing the front door (Picture: MetroUK/Jessica Kwong)
The Pink House is at the centre of the Supreme Court case Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health, which considers the constitutionality of a 2018 Mississippi law that prohibits abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy (Picture: MetroUK/Jessica Kwong)

In between helping visitors into the building and dealing with the constant white noise of protestors, Derenda tells us that Mississippi is the poorest state in the country and women seeking abortions have nowhere else to get the procedure done.

‘It’s not like they can hop on a flight and go to New York, and they can barely get to Jackson from the Delta,’ she explains. ‘If they can barely get here, they’re probably not going to make it to Alabama or Tennessee, whose clinics will close right behind us if ours is closed. The entire southeast will be an abortion desert.’

However, it’s not just women from Mississippi that are desperately seeking help through the doors of The Pink House. It has also become a destination for those from other southern states, including Louisiana, when Hurricane Ida shuttered its abortion clinics.

And exactly a month before it considered Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments on Texas’ restrictive law banning most abortions after about six weeks. Effective since September 1, the law makes no exceptions for pregnancies from rape or incest and allows individuals to sue doctors or anyone who aids in the abortion being performed.

The Pink House is located in Jackson’s Fondren District, the city’s arts and culture hub (Picture: MetroUK/Jessica Kwong)

After the ban came into place, Jackson Women’s Health Organization Director Shannon Brewer wrote on The Pink House blog that they ‘wanted to send out a message of solidarity and unity to our fellow abortion providers in Texas’.

She added, ‘We know that day was a hard day for many, but wanted to share with everyone what it was like for the staff at the only clinic in Mississippi. From 8am until closing, our office was inundated with non-stop calls from Texas patients seeking abortion care….

‘The Pink House is honored to be in the position to provide vital and necessary health care services to anyone who needs them,’ Shannon continued. ‘This is why our staff and doctors walk through throngs of hostile, screaming, and threatening protesters day after day and week after week – because they are dedicated to being there and being strong when they are needed the most.’

‘We have had Texas patients here,’ Derenda confirms. ‘We have a lot already coming from Louisiana, two of their clinics were down for two weeks because of power. So we are so booked up.’

Coleman Boyd, an emergency room doctor who spreads the gospel of God along with his family, holds a sign with a graphic abortion image to try to steer women away from entering the clinic (Picture: MetroUK/Jessica Kwong)

For Coleman – who has 12 children including a five-year-old girl they adopted from a woman they convinced not to have an abortion – the clinic shutting down would be ‘a victory’.

‘Oh I’d dance a jig, I would come one more time to celebrate right there on that sidewalk but yeah, absolutely that’s a victory,’ Coleman says.

‘That would bless my soul because we do a lot of ministry but there’s so many areas of ministry that I want to be doing that I can’t because this is ground zero to me. Babies are being murdered here so this is ground zero.’

As Coleman, 49, blasts gospel songs including God, the Uncreated One (King Forevermore), Derenda shares that she herself had two abortions – one in Oklahoma and another in Florida – because she never wanted nor intended to have children. She says her birth control failed the first time though she took the pill religiously, and she was late in taking it in the second instance.

‘I did what I needed to do,’ she recalls. ‘It was not a tough decision whatsoever. I know for a lot of women this is a hard choice. It was simple for me. I have zero regrets, I did absolutely the right thing and if I were to go back in my life and do it again, I’d do the same thing.

Derenda Hancock leads the Pink House Defenders, a group of volunteers who escort and ensure women seeking abortions at the Jackson Women’s Health Organization are not intimidated by pro-life activists (Picture: MetroUK/Jessica Kwong)

‘And that’s one of the reasons I do this,’ Derenda adds. ‘Everyone should have that choice and have access to being able to make that choice.’

As someone who has needed the services of a facility like The Pink House, she’s all too aware of how important the clinic is, and recalls how other women have shown their gratitude for the services inside that are being threatened.

‘There was a woman one time about five years ago that came out, these people were giving her a really hard time,’ she explains, referring to the protestors outside. ‘The anti’s had given her a lot of grief on her way and when she came out, she did cartwheels across the parking lot to show them how excited she was.’

When the Supreme Court appeal was first announced, Shannon wrote a guest essay for The New York Times detailing how she felt at the time. She admitted she was not concerned because she didn’t think it would take up the case. However, she was wrong.

‘If the ban is upheld and Roe is reversed, it would make an already awful situation yet more dire,’ Shannon wrote. ‘Women may need to drive even farther, across multiple states, to get abortion care. We desperately need – we have long needed – Congress to intervene.’

Then, as the date of the case drew closer, Shannon went on to write on The Pink House website: ‘We don’t know how long we will be able to offer our services. Until we are told we must close our doors, The Pink House Fund is here to offer swift and direct assistance to patients in need.’

Even if the high court sides with the Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the Pink House Defenders are ready to keep protecting the clinic from protesters and pro-life advocates who are unlikely to give up their cause.

Even if the high court sides with the Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the Pink House Defenders are ready to keep protecting the clinic from protesters (Picture: Jessica Kwong)
Pro-life activists bring signs stating ‘abortion is murder’ and other messages discouraging women from going through with the procedure (Picture: MetroUK/Jessica Kwong)

Indeed, the day before the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case, Coleman confirmed to that he will be watching, but would continue business as usual outside The Pink House.

‘That case is going to go on for two hours but after that, we’re going to be on the sidewalk watching more babies dying,’ he says.

To Derenda, these types of beliefs mean that even a victory in the Supreme Court will not save The Pink House forever.

‘It’s just another brick in the wall. All they’re doing is trying to pull one here and one there,’ she insists.

‘If we win it, we’re going to buy some time and that’s what’s important right now. If we can get the Women’s Health Protection Act passed, it’s going to make a huge difference,’ she said, referring to federal legislation that would protect the right to access abortion care throughout the US.

‘But until something like that happens,’ Derenda concludes, ‘These people and the people that they put into office that are causing all of this – they’re just going to chipping away at the wall until it falls down.’

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For more stories like this, check our news page. The fight to keep Mississippi's only abortion clinic open

Huynh Nguyen

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