The Last Abortion Clinic in Mississippi
In November 2005, Perrspectives reviewed the PBS Frontline documentary, The Last Abortion Clinic. The segment detailed the relentless, draconian and largely successful efforts by anti-choice forces to restrict women's reproductive rights in Mississippi. Now two years later in the wake of the Gonzales v. Carhart decision upholding the so-called partial birth abortion ban, NBC News has an update on the desperate struggle of the last abortion clinic in Mississippi.
As PBS made clear, anti-choice extremists have made abortions virtually unobtainable in Mississippi. As I wrote in 2005:
Constantly testing the "undue burden" standard introduced by the Supreme Court in its 1992 Casey ruling, Mississippi has enacted a series of restrictions on access to abortion. Starting with rigid parental consent rules, the state added steep new barriers to abortion access, including requirements that abortion doctors must have admitting privileges at local hospitals. Starting in 2006, facilities performing second and third trimester procedures must meet the same regulatory standards as full surgical hospitals, 36 pages of rules in all. As a result, the entire state of Mississippi, one of the poorest in the nation, now has only a single abortion clinic, the Jacksonboro Women's Health Clinic.
As NBC reports, the assault on women's access to and physicians' ability to perform abortions continues unabated. Through scare tactics, scientific fraud and drastic new requirements for clinic and doctors alike, anti-choice leaders like State Senator Richard White are brimming with confidence that "in the next couple of years you're going to see Mississippi be the first one to stop abortion." The measures designed to limit availability and catapult costs for pregnancy termination services are astounding:
By law, each patient must attend a consultation with a clinic doctor, then wait 24 hours before actually having the procedure. Doctors are required to perform ultrasound examinations before the operation and then offer the patient the opportunity to see and hear the results.
Perhaps most controversial, doctors are also ordered to tell patients there is a link between abortions, infertility and breast cancer.
This last burden is all the more noxious, given the overwhelming scientific consensus that there simply is no link between abortion on the one hand and infertility or breast cancer on the other. In 2003, Bush administration allies grudgingly removed such baseless propaganda about "inconclusive" research from a National Cancer Institute web site after studies published in The Lancet and an outcry from the medical community. In Minnesota, women's health professionals helped stopped these false claims from being published by the department of health; in Montana, the state Supreme Court struck down the law in question.
Yet such blatant falsehoods persist in Mississippi as one more onerous burden on women and their doctors. As Dr. Joseph Booker of the Jackson Women's Health Organization so succinctly put it, "There's absolutely no medical reason for any of these restrictions that they put on us."
Mississippi shows in microcosm the anti-choice forces' three-pronged strategy in action. First, at the national level, the frontal assault on rights protected under Roe v. Wade will continue at the Supreme Court in the upcoming term. Meanwhile, conservatives will fight to pack the Court with reliable opponents of reproductive rights. Second, the right will build on its partial birth abortion victory with new slippery slope tactics to curb the types and availability of legal abortion procedures. And last, abortion foes will intensify tactics such as mandatory ultrasound viewings, fraudulent "fetal pain" warnings" and licensing barriers to scare patients and doctors alike.
Down south in Mississippi, whether Roe survives in theory has almost become moot. Because in practice, abortion there is almost a thing of the past.
UPDATE: One of the owners of the Jackson clinic provides more insights in the battle for reproductive rights at her blog, the Hot Flash Report.