Clinic at core of abortion case, and the last one in Mississippi, closes

·National Reporter and Producer
·5 min read

The abortion clinic at the center of the Supreme Court’s monumental decision to reliniqush abortion rights to states has officially closed its doors after failing a legal battle.

The Jackson Women’s Health Organization ceased its operations after a Mississippi judge on Tuesday denied its request to block the state’s trigger law banning abortion from going into effect.

“That order we believe is absolutely outrageous and wrong,” said Hillary Schneller, a senior staff attorney for the Center for Reproductive Rights who was part of the team that argued the case in court Tuesday.

“Today was the first day that abortion was made criminal in Mississippi for the first time in 50 years because the trigger ban took effect.”

An abortion clinic security guard and abortion rights protesters confront an anti-abortion demonstrator outside the Jackson Women's Health Organization, on the final day when abortions are carried out, before the clinic permanently closes, in Jackson, Miss., on July 6.
An abortion clinic security guard and abortion rights protesters confront an anti-abortion demonstrator outside the Jackson Women's Health Organization, on the final day when abortions are carried out, before the clinic permanently closes, in Jackson, Miss., on July 6. (Liliana Salgado/Reuters)

As the only place to get an abortion in Mississippi, the clinic serviced patients up until Wednesday as tensions flared between protesters on both sides of the issue outside the building.

Judge Debbra Halford explained that the Mississippi Supreme Court, not the local court, is the body that decides matters of constitutionality as she denied the last-minute push. But the fight might not be over.

“So, actually minutes ago, the Center for Reproductive Rights and the Mississippi Center for Justice and the law firm Paul, Weiss, which represent the clinic, filed a petition with the Mississippi Supreme Court asking them for emergency relief to correct the district court's order and allow the clinic to resume service,” Schneller told Yahoo News.

In June, the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade as a part of its decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, concluding that abortion was not a constitutional right. That gave states the power to restrict the procedure. More than a dozen had already passed “trigger laws” to implement immediate bans.

Jackson Women's Health Organization, the last abortion clinic in Mississippi, has closed.
Jackson Women's Health Organization, the last abortion clinic in Mississippi, has closed. (Kathleen Flynn/Reuters)

Dr. Cheryl Hamlin is one of several physicians who rotated shifts at the "Pink House," a nickname for the Jackson Women’s Health Organization. She worked at the clinic until Tuesday evening helping patients and returned Wednesday for the last procedures the clinic could perform, according to NBC News.

“I’m sure that women who do make it out of state to get [the] procedure, when they return will be afraid to seek medical care. Some people will self-abort. Some people will continue dangerous [pregnancies], so I mean it’s obviously devastating for these women,” Hamlin told NBC’s Lester Holt.

“Illinois is probably the closest state. I mean, I think it’s probably a seven-hour drive or something to the closest clinic. New Mexico is about a 10-hour drive. Massachusetts is a 22-hour drive.”

Diane Derzis, owner of the Pink House, plans to move the clinic to Las Cruces, N.M. Hamlin is expected to follow. They expect to start serving patients there in about two weeks. But they know it will be a challenge for women left in Mississippi to find services elsewhere.

Betty Thompson worked for the Jackson Women’s Health Organization as a counselor for 25 years. She talked about her work with the clinic in a video with StoryCorps, an outlet that creates and shares human interest stories.

“We know that we are the only clinic in Mississippi and we are needed and that’s why I’m here,” she said.

Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves, a Republican, emphasized that the state’s abortion bans went into effect on July 7 and commended Halford’s decision.

“This law has the potential to save the lives of thousands of unborn Mississippi children,” Reeves said. “It is a great victory for life. I also believe it is critical that we showcase to every mother and child that they are loved and that their communities will support them. We have much more work to do. Every life has inherent dignity, and Mississippi will continue to do everything it can to advance the fight for life.”

For Schneller, this isn’t just a fight for Mississippi, but a fight for all states with abortion bans.

Patients rush past protesters leaving the Pink House after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the Dobbs v. Women's Health Organization abortion case.
Patients rush past protesters leaving the Pink House after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the Dobbs v. Women's Health Organization abortion case. (Gabriella Borter/Reuters)

“Clinics in Arkansas, Alabama and Texas and across the region have been forced to stop providing abortion services. Mississippi was able to remain open for a couple of weeks after the U.S, Supreme Court decision,” she said.

“Now that it has been forced to close, it's no longer a refuge for patients coming from across the South, and now folks from Mississippi will have to cross multiple state lines to access abortion care. I can't put into words of how devastating and chaotic the next few days, the next few months and years will be for people trying to seek abortion care. Many of those people are not going to be able to leave the state to try to access care and will be forced by their government to endure the risks of pregnancy and childbirth.”