While oral arguments in a Mississippi abortion case were heard at the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington on Wednesday, protesters both for and against abortion access were making themselves heard across the Magnolia State’s capital city.
Music was bumping in downtown Jackson’s Smith Park for the “Abortion Freedom Fighters” rally, which saw over 100 attendees, some traveling from Texas, Louisiana, Alabama and Georgia. The rally was live-streamed onto the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court, where thousands gathered on Wednesday.
Rally organizers Michelle Colon, Tyler Harden and Valencia Robinson spoke first, subsequently opening the floor to other community organizers and out-of-state guests.
Harden, the Mississippi state director for Planned Parenthood, spoke about the history of white supremacy and subjugation that has led to this moment, emphasizing that these battles are not new.
“Even though this place doesn’t want to love us back, we love you Mississippi,” Harden said.
Nearly every speaker emphasized that regardless of what the Supreme Court decides, they will continue to make reproductive health care available and accessible to anyone who needs it.
“We are here for abortions, and we are here if you want to keep your baby. You need diapers? You need wipes? You need menstrual products? We’re here,” said Kayla Roberts of the Mississippi Reproductive Freedom Fund. “We have condoms, we have abortion information, we have a food pantry, we have emergency housing; you tell us what you need.”
Five or six anti-abortion protestors attended the rally to disrupt the gathering, preaching and yelling at the speakers and attendees with bullhorns. The counter protestors were heavily outnumbered at Smith Park, though, and the abortion advocates turned up the volume on their public address system and the rally continued without major interruption.
“It is no coincidence that the voices trying to disrupt women of color, people of color, are white men,” said Lakeesha Harris, director of reproductive health and justice at Women With A Vision, Inc. in New Orleans. “As per usual, they come here empty-handed, with no money and no resources to help the children that we’ve already given birth to.”
Organizations who attended the rally included SHERo, Mississippi in Action, Planned Parenthood, Access Reproductive Care Southeast, the Yellowhammer Fund, the Mississippi Reproductive Freedom Fund, the Immigrant Alliance for Justice and Equity, One Voice MS, and Cooperation Jackson.
“Mississippi has always been counted out, but today we showed not just the Supreme Court but the governor — we’ve shown people that we are not going to let y’all make decisions on our bodies,” said Valencia Robinson, CEO and founder of Mississippi in Action. “Women, pregnant people, nobody. Because if you’re taking one right away, you’re going to start trying to take other rights away.”
Outside the Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the state’s only abortion clinic located several miles north of Smith Park, things were relatively quiet. Around 30-40 anti-abortion protestors were praying with red tape over their mouths with “LIFE” written on it, holding signs with graphic images or waving pink flags. One man was trying to talk to people in cars as they drove out of the clinic parking lot, and another was preaching.
“God almighty visited you and gave you a baby. Will you save it today? Will you love it?” said Coleman Boyd, a regular protester outside the Jackson Women’s Health Organization.
One man drove his car up and down the street honking and playing loud music to disrupt the preaching, but left after a few minutes. The building’s speakers were also loudly playing pop music, with the protestors in turn aiming speakers at the building playing hymns.
Clinic escorts, who have become known as the “Pink House defenders” (named after the building’s recognizable pink exterior), were guarding the parking lot. Sharon Lobert, a Pink House defender, said that this was part of the shift in operations that came during the pandemic, since people now wait in their cars to be seen instead of in the lobby.
Lobert, a retired nurse, has been volunteering with the defenders for three-and-a-half years and has watched anti-abortion protestors become more ardent. She also said she has noticed an increase in out-of-state patients.
“I’ve learned how Derenda (the lead organizer of the defenders) works very hard to have a relationship with the (anti-abortion protestors) so you can know what to expect and how to keep people safe,” Lobert said. “It’s the people that you don’t recognize that you’ve got to worry about.”
Editor’s note: Michelle Colon, an organizer of the Dec. 1 downtown Jackson rally, is a part-time employee of Mississippi Today. She assists our administrative team, but she does not have any editorial role.
-- Article credit to Julia James of Mississippi Today --