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Mississippi abortion clinic at center of Supreme Court fight permanently closes

JACKSON, Mississippi — As the sun set around 2:15 p.m. Wednesday, Dale Gibson began posting signs to the iron fence surrounding Mississippi’s only abortion clinic.

“The fight is not over,” read one.

In cursive script, another swore, “This is not the end.”

Wednesday was the last day the Jackson Women’s Health Organization was legally allowed to perform abortions in Mississippi. It was the last day that Gibson and his fellow volunteer patient escorts gathered outside the clinic to defend a right that no longer exists in much of the country.

Dale Gibson puts up a sign on the iron fence surrounding the Jackson Women’s Health Organization on Wednesday. Bracey Harris/NBC News

For years the volunteers – known as the Pink House Defenders, a nickname derived from the building’s pink flamingo hue – played music to drown out the cries of protesters trying to dissuade patients from entering. .

Now it was quiet.

Before turning away to walk away from the clinic, Gibson said he “was still a little numb.” His emotions were circling: “from anger to despair to kind of screw everything up to despair.”

On Thursday, Mississippi becomes the latest of a growing number of Southern states where nearly all abortion care is banned after the Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade.

Mississippi’s trigger law gave the Jackson Women’s Health Organization a 10-day window to continue operations after state Attorney General Lynn Fitch certified the Supreme Court’s decision. Going forward, the only exceptions to the ban are if a patient’s life is in danger or if a patient was raped and reported the assault to law enforcement.

Mississippi abortion clinic at center of Supreme Court fight permanently closes
Diane Derzis, owner of the Jackson Women’s Health Organization, at a June 24 press conference. File Rogelio V. Solis / AP

For years, the clinic known locally as the Pink House had fought off a wave of laws aimed at preventing it from operating. Today, Diane Derzis, the owner of the clinic, has decided to close its doors permanently.

On Wednesday, she spoke with the director of the clinic and offered a message of support. She did not give the number of patients who received care in the clinic’s final hours, but said that over the past few days there had been “a huge number”. Since the Supreme Court ruling, the Pink House has been open every day possible, Derzis said.

“I wish it was longer,” she said. “But it’s like that.”

The clinic expects a few last patients to be able to come in for follow-up visits on Thursday, before the Maison Rose closes for good.

Derzis plans to open a new pink house in Las Cruces, New Mexico. She expects to start serving patients there in about two weeks.

“The Pink House is just a building,” she said. “It going.”

Dr. Cheryl Hamlin follows the Pink House in New Mexico — but she worries that many women who have sought abortion care at the Jackson clinic may not be able to do the same.

Mississippi abortion clinic at center of Supreme Court fight permanently closes
Dr. Cheryl Hamlin hugs Kim Gibson, co-founder of The Pink House Defenders and clinic escort, before returning home to Massachusetts on June 7. Erin Clark/Boston Globe via Getty Images File

Hamlin, who lives in Massachusetts, is one of many doctors who have done rotations at the Pink House. She remained at the clinic through Tuesday evening to review patient records, then returned early Wednesday for final clinic procedures.

She worries that the fall in abortion rights, coupled with health care shortages in Mississippi’s poorest rural communities, is costing lives. In economically disadvantaged communities across the state, researchers have documented poor access to OB-GYNs.

In 2019, 23-year-old Shyteria Shoemaker died after her family desperately tried to find her care when she became breathless. The hospital a few minutes from her home had closed its emergency room about five years earlier. The county’s strained ambulance service took nearly 30 minutes to arrive.

Shoemaker, who was pregnant, was pronounced dead shortly after arriving at a nearby county hospital.

“Nobody takes care of them,” Hamlin said of women living in Mississippi’s health care deserts. “These are people who are trying hard…but they’re really poor and they don’t have options.”

Mississippi abortion clinic at center of Supreme Court fight permanently closes

On Wednesday morning, Derenda Hancock, co-founder of We Engage, the nonprofit group that organizes the Pink House Defenders, arrived outside the clinic wearing a straw hat adorned with a green bandana. For nearly a decade, she faced mobs of abortion opponents, some hostile, others quietly holding pamphlets. Like her, they rarely missed a clinic opening day.

Mississippi abortion clinic at center of Supreme Court fight permanently closes
Clinic escorts use signs to block anti-abortion activist Allen Siders as he shouts at women entering the Jackson Women’s Health Organization on Wednesday. Rogelio V. Solis/AP

Hancock’s voice was steady, betraying little of what she knew she would be feeling over the next few hours.

“I’m sure at the end of the day, I won’t be able to hold on any longer,” she said. “You have to get through before you can lose it.”

Later Wednesday morning, David Lane, an anti-abortion protester, followed his younger brother, Doug, outside the clinic, where Doug began screaming. A group of people carrying signs supporting abortion rights began blowing up kazoos to drown out Doug’s cries. A security guard stepped between the men and the abortion rights supporters.

The Lanes are among the crowd of protesters who have gathered outside the clinic over the years.

“Everyone expects us to be thrilled,” David Lane later said in an interview. “What we are is very grateful.”

But he expressed doubts that Wednesday would be the final chapter in the fight for abortion rights in Mississippi — and the nation.

“The government gave us Roe in 1973. The government took him away in ’22. What’s to stop the government from giving him back in ’26? Nothing,” he said.

Lane noted that the Supreme Court ruling did not result in the banning of abortion in states like North Carolina, where he plans to travel next. Closer to home, he expects organizations like Pro-Life Mississippi to organize support for residents with few options to end their pregnancies.

Mississippi abortion clinic at center of Supreme Court fight permanently closes
A clinic security guard tries to separate anti-abortion activist Doug Lane, left, from abortion rights supporters, who used noisemakers to drown out Lane’s megaphone.Rogelio V. Solis/AP

By mid-afternoon, after Gibson had hung the signs the Pink House Defenders had made on the fence outside, the group of volunteers looked at them, taking a few last photos and saying goodbye. Hancock kissed a young defender wearing a baseball cap, then they turned and started walking away.

Gibson, 53, was considering his steps in the fight for the protections he believes will be next to fall – like trans rights and gay rights. Birth control, he thought, would also most likely come under attack.

“They want to take everything back to the 1900s,” he said.

For now, he would leave the clinic and go home to smoke a brisket. In the near future, he plans to move with his wife, Kim Gibson, another co-founder of We Engage, to California – where “there is a semblance of the Constitution,” he said.

Mississippi abortion clinic at center of Supreme Court fight permanently closes
On Wednesday, two clinic escorts walk away from the Jackson Women’s Health Organization.Rogelio V. Solis/AP


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