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Mississippi abortion clinic at the center of the Supreme Court battle closes its doors for good

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JACKSON, Ms. — As the sun set about 2:15 p.m. Wednesday, Dale Gibson began attaching signs to the iron gate surrounding Mississippi’s only abortion clinic.

“The battle is not over yet,” one read.

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

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

Dale Gibson puts a sign on the iron fence around 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 flamingo hue — have played music to drown out the screams of protesters trying to stop patients from entering.

Now it was quiet.

Before turning to walk away from the clinic, Gibson said he was “still a little numb.” His emotions went in circles: “anger to despair to f — it all to sort of back to despair.”

On Thursday, Mississippi will become the latest in a growing number of southern states to ban nearly all abortion care after the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade.

Mississippi’s trigger law gave the Jackson Women’s Health Organization a 10-day period to continue operations after Attorney General Lynn Fitch upheld the Supreme Court ruling. Come on, the only one exceptions be subject to the prohibition if a patient’s life is in danger or if a patient has been raped and reported to the police.

Image: Diane Derzis
Diane Derzis, owner of the Jackson Women’s Health Organization, at a press conference on June 24. Rogelio V. Solis / AP file

For years, the clinic known locally as the Pink House had pushed back a wave of laws designed to stop it from working. Now Diane Derzis, the owner of the clinic, has decided to finally close its doors.

On Wednesday she presented herself to the director of the clinic and offered a statement of support. She didn’t give the number of patients treated in the clinic’s final hours, but said there had been “a lot” in the past few days. The Pink House has been open every day since the Supreme Court ruling, Derzis said.

“I wish it was longer,” she said. “But it is what it is.”

The clinic expects that a few last patients can come for a check-up on Thursday, before the Pink House definitively closes.

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 goes on.”

dr. Cheryl Hamlin follows the Pink House to New Mexico — but she worries that many of the women who sought abortion care at the Jackson clinic won’t be able to do the same.

Image: Dr.  Cheryl Hamlin hugs Kim Gibson, co-founder of The Pink House Defenders and clinic escort, before returning to Massachusetts on June 7, 2022 at the Jackson Women's Health Organization clinic in Jackson, Miss.
dr. Cheryl Hamlin hugs Kim Gibson, a co-founder of The Pink House Defenders and a 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 the many doctors who alternated at the Pink House. She stayed at the clinic on Tuesday evenings to review patient records and returned early Wednesday for the clinic’s final procedures.

She fears the loss of abortion rights, coupled with health care shortages in Mississippi’s poorest rural communities, will cost lives. In the state’s economically disadvantaged communities, researchers have documented poor access to OB-GYNs.

in 2019, Shyteria Shoemaker, 23, passed away after her family frantically tried to find her care when she became short of breath. The hospital, just minutes from her home, had closed the emergency room about five years earlier. The tense county ambulance service took nearly 30 minutes to arrive.

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

“Nobody takes care of them,” Hamlin said of the women living in Mississippi’s healthcare deserts. “They’re people trying hard…but they’re really poor and have no options.”

Wednesday morning, Derenda Hancock, co-founder of We Engage, the nonprofit that organizes the Pink House Defenders, arrived outside the clinic wearing a straw hat adorned with a green bandana. For nearly a decade she has faced multitudes of abortion opponents, some hostile, some quietly holding pamphlets. Like them, they rarely missed a day when the clinic was open.

Image: Allen Siders
Clinic counselors use placards to block anti-abortion activist Allen Siders as he yells at women entering the Jackson Women’s Health Organization on Wednesday. Rogelio V. Solis / AP

Hancock’s voice was firm, revealing little about what she knew she would be feeling in the coming hours.

“I’m sure I won’t be able to last much longer at the end of the day,” she said. “We have to get through it before we can lose it.”

Later Wednesday morning, David Lane, an anti-abortion activist, followed his younger brother, Doug, to the front of the clinic, where Doug started screaming. A group of people carrying signs supporting abortion rights began to blow kazoos to drown out Doug’s screams. A guard intervened between the men and abortion rights advocates.

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

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

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

“The government gave us Roe in ’73. The government took it away in ’22. What will keep the government from returning it in ’26? Nothing,” he said.

Lane noted that the Supreme Court ruling had not resulted in an abortion ban in states like North Carolina, where he plans to travel next. Closer to home, he expects organizations like Pro-Life Mississippi to provide support for residents with few options for terminating their pregnancies.

Image: Doug Lane
A clinic security guard tries to separate left-wing anti-abortion activist Doug Lane from abortion rights advocates, who used noisemakers to drown out Lane’s megaphone.Rogelio V. Solis / AP

By mid-afternoon, after Gibson had put up the signs the Pink House Defenders had put up at the gate outside, the group of volunteers stood looking up at them, taking some final photos and saying goodbye. Hancock hugged a young defender in a baseball cap, then they turned and started to walk away.

Gibson, 53, considered his steps in fighting for protections he feared would lapse, such as trans rights and gay rights. Birth control, he thought, would most likely come under fire as well.

“They want to bring 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 We Engage co-founder, to California — where “there is some semblance of the Constitution,” he said.

Image:
Two clinic escorts walk away from the Jackson Women’s Health Organization on Wednesday.Rogelio V. Solis / AP

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