May 28, 2019

Preserving the Right to Abortion in Mississippi

magnolia

I live in Mississippi, a state that is one of the most conservative and one of the most religious states in the U.S. All branches of government are controlled by conservative Republicans, most of whom are proud to tell you that they are evangelical fundamentalist Christians. Not surprisingly, Mississippi has passed law after law designed to make it increasingly difficult for women to have abortions. Because Roe v. Wade has prevented them from banning abortion outright, they have been creative in chipping away at it piece-by-piece over some time. And unfortunately, they have been fairly successful in limiting access.

There is one clinic in the entire state of Mississippi where a woman can get an abortion today. The Jackson Women's Health Organization, locally known as the Pink House, is located in Jackson, our largest city. Women who live in other parts of the state may have to travel for hours to reach it. And when they arrive, it is likely that they will be greeted by a small but persistent group of Christian extremists who surround the clinic in order to scream at anyone who tries to enter. The people who work there, including the brave individuals who volunteer as clinic escorts, do an amazing job of making sure that women in the state can access this vital service.

I was pleased to see the Jackson Women's Health Organization featured in a recent episode of CNN's United Shades of America that focused on abortion in Mississippi. I thought the show did a great job of highlighting what is at stake here. Although abortion is still legal in Mississippi, access to the service has become increasingly difficult. Women here must endure quite a bit that women in many other states do not have to.

On the ground in Mississippi, it is abundantly clear that abortion is a church-state issue. Those who oppose it, much like the governor of Alabama, are eager to tell you why. And when they do, you are going to hear about their gods. The fact that it is possible to oppose reproductive rights on secular grounds does not make this any less of a church-state issue. What matters here is that those making the laws are loudly and repeatedly telling us that they are doing so for religious reasons.

The more I learn about what a woman living in Mississippi today must go through in order to abort a pregnancy, the more disgusted I am by the Christian extremism that runs rampant here. And yes, this is a case of not being sure I could be any more disgusted and then discovering how wrong I was. What can be done? Like so much else about Mississippi, I fear we have our work cut out for us. Still, I'd like to mention two brief thoughts about what we can do in the short-term.

First and most important, those who have the means to do so can donate to the Jackson Women's Health Organization. There's a link to PayPal on their website, and I am sure that even small donations would be appreciated. Organizations like this need support to do what they do, and they certainly aren't getting much help here.

Second, I think we need to make the link between fundamentalist Christianity and efforts to abolish reproductive rights more explicit. I say this because relatively little of the mainstream news media coverage I have seen of the recent abortion bans makes this as clear as it needs to be. These bans are coming about because of fundamentalist Christianity. To present them as motivated by anything else seems incomplete at best and misleading at worst. I am well aware that many Christians support reproductive rights. The issue is that many don't and those who don't are eager to make sure nobody else has the right to choose for themselves.