Access to abortion already out of reach for most Mississippians
Laurie Bertram Roberts works with a young woman who wants to terminate her pregnancy but cannot afford it. If the Mississippi woman is somehow able to recover the money, she knows she will have to travel to another state for the procedure.
With just one abortion clinic in the state, 99% of Mississippi counties do not have clinics that offer abortions. About 91 percent of Mississippi women live in these counties, according to the Guttmacher Institute, an organization that studies reproductive health rights.
“Mississippi is already in a post-Roe existence,” said Bertram Roberts, co-founder of the Mississippi Reproductive Freedom Fund, which provides logistical and financial support to women seeking abortions.
“Most people don’t have access to abortion care. If so, they have to go through difficult steps to get one,” said Bertram Roberts, adding that his organization pays up to seven. abortions per week, more than half of which are obtained outside of Mississippi.
Limited access to abortion services combined with multiple restrictions, such as state-mandated counseling and a 24-hour waiting period, often forces patients to cross state borders to have an abortion. . Clinics in surrounding states, including Alabama and Tennessee, are already seeing many patients from Mississippi and said they could see a slight increase if access was further restricted.
On December 1, the United States Supreme Court will review the legality of the state’s ban on most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. Fetal viability is generally considered to begin between 24 and 26 weeks.
Mississippi’s restrictive bill was the first to reach the High Court from a wave of state laws aimed at challenging the Roe v. Wade of 1973, who declared access to abortion a constitutional right.
“For decades, Mississippi has embraced restriction after restriction, targeting all aspects of abortion care,” said Hillary Schneller, senior counsel at the Center for Reproductive Rights and senior co-lawyer with the Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the complainant. in the Supreme Court abortion. Case.
“This is the most direct challenge for Roe the court has seen in decades,” Schneller said.
Abortion opponents say the Mississippi case offers an opportunity for the conservative-leaning court to roll back abortion rights. Laura Knight, president of Pro-Life Mississippi, said she was “encouraged” by the judges’ decision to take the case and said abortion advocates “look forward to a future where Mississippi is free. to further protect unborn children “.
State Senator Joey Fillingane, a Republican who supports the law, said he was optimistic the court was “ready to change the viability standard and bring it closer to the point of design.”
“There’s a lot of momentum and excitement right now, and conservative states like Mississippi won’t stop trying to pass pro-life laws,” Fillingane said.
More than 93 percent of abortions in Mississippi in 2018 were performed before 14 weeks gestation and 75 percent before 10 weeks, according to the Centers for Disaster Control and Prevention. But abortion advocates say a week less to get an abortion in Mississippi would have a huge impact on female patients.
Abortions later in pregnancy usually occur when medical issues arise, such as fetal abnormalities or endangering the mother’s life, and barriers to access could hamper these procedures.
Robin Marty, director of operations at the West Alabama Women’s Center, a clinic in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, said there could be an influx of patients from Mississippi if the Supreme Court upholds Mississippi law. For now, Alabama is a safe haven for abortions because “we are in a crisis where people cannot access the South” and “more and more people are coming to our clinic every day”, Marty said.
Currently, patients from all over Mississippi come to the West Alabama Women’s Center for care. So far, in 2021, the clinic has performed abortions to some 40 Mississippians per month, representing about 20% of its patients, according to Marty.
The average cost of an abortion at 10 weeks is around $ 550, and the cost increases dramatically later in pregnancy.
Longer distances to abortion clinics often result in higher costs, delayed abortion and challenges like time off work and childcare, said Roxanne Sutocky, director of engagement. community at Women’s Centers, which has a clinic in Atlanta.
She said the advocacy call center receives about 10 calls per week from Mississippi patients, who often believe abortion is illegal or inaccessible in their state. The clinic provides abortion services to about six Mississippians per month, Sutocky said.
“The extension of reproductive control and oppression of states is very alarming,” Sutocky said.
In Memphis, Tennessee, CHOIX Memphis has seen a year-over-year increase in the number of Mississippians seeking abortions at their clinic. In 2020, CHOICES Memphis saw over 500 Mississippi patients. So far this year, the clinic has performed abortions for more than 700 Mississippians, or nearly 70 patients per month, said Jennifer Pepper, executive director of CHOICES Memphis.
Even if the Supreme Court does not strike down Roe v. Wade, this could potentially allow states to regulate the procedure more freely, making abortion largely inaccessible in the South, Pepper said. This could force patients in the area to travel hundreds of kilometers for treatment.
“The Supreme Court ruling not only has an impact on Mississippi, but it potentially has an impact on all of us in states where there is no state protection for access to the abortion, ”Pepper said.
If Roe v. Wade was weakened or overthrown, states surrounding Mississippi – including Tennessee, Alabama, Arkansas and Louisiana – along with 21 other states would restrict abortion, according to the Guttmacher Institute. That would make Illinois, North Carolina, and Kansas the closest states for Mississippians to get an abortion.
Ashley Coffield, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Tennessee and North Mississippi, which aborts up to 60 Mississippi patients per month, called Mississippi a “domino.”
“When it does fall, the surrounding states will fall as well, and there will be a huge health crisis that extends far beyond Mississippi,” Coffield said.