In the heart of the arts district of Jackson, Mississippi – a place that nicknamed itself the City With Soul – sits a bubble gum pink stucco building.
Facing it is another vibrant structure: an iconic blue and canary-coloured retail and residential property called Fondren Corner. Against this funky backdrop, at first glance the modest pink house with its green metal roof appears as welcoming as its eclectic surroundings.
But looks can be deceiving.
On closer inspection, access – and even the view of the front door – is blocked by fencing reinforced with opaque black tarpaulin and placards. Posted on the barriers that leave an opening only for the driveway are bright yellow ‘NO TRESPASSING’ signs.
Meanwhile, on the pavement outside the building, two groups can often be seen clashing several times a week from early morning to late afternoon, as women enter and exit.
Known as ‘The Pink House’, the property has served as the only abortion clinic to the whole of Mississippi since 2006.
It’s future hangs in the balance following leaked reports that the US Supreme Court may be set to overturn abortion rights guaranteed under the 1973 Roe v Wade ruling. If such a reversal does go ahead, the ramifications will be huge, with women across America being prevented from accessing abortion care.
In a statement released following the news, The Pink House said: ‘It’s been difficult to put into words – words that everyone can understand – how we feel about what is happening, because what is happening now doesn’t just affect Mississippi patients. It affects us all.’
Meanwhile, Coleman Boyd, 50, who regularly protests against abortion outside the building, told Metro.co.uk, ‘If they hold true to that, of course I’m thankful that they at least undid Roe – but I think they didn’t go far enough. They should have upheld the 14th Amendment, which says you can’t take life without due process of law.’
Speaking from Odesa, Ukraine, where he has been bringing supplies to refugees, Coleman continues: ‘If this goes through and they do overturn Roe, there are still going to be probably over 35 states that are still killing babies. So we as a nation are still allowing babies to be murdered.’
Coleman and his large family spread the gospel of God under the name ‘By All Means Ministries’, and are one of the pro-life groups that station themselves outside the clinic every day it is open. They are also the reason that the other set of people, known as the Pink House Defenders, exist. They act – as their colorful vests say – as ‘clinic escort’, making sure patients get in and out safely.
Laura Duran, 75, a member of Pro Life Mississippi, and has been maintaining the group’s presence outside The Pink House in Coleman’s absence.
Standing outside clinic on Tuesday morning, she tells Metro.co.uk that it’s very much business as usual for the Defenders, despite the shocking news. ‘They’re still bringing ladies in… They’re not showing any type of opinion on their face,’ she says.
Laura, who has spent the last decade protesting outside The Pink House, adds: ‘As far as the decision, it’s way late coming. So by saying that, I hope they will process it through in a timely manner so more children will not be killed. We’ve waited for this for 50 years.’
It was a cold Tuesday morning in Mississippi when I visited the state’s last abortion clinic to see what they were up against.
As I watched a car approach the driveway, I spotted pro-life advocate Coleman clutching a sign with an image of a fetus, pleading at the vehicle: ‘Look at this, don’t do this to your baby. This is a baby murdered in an abortion mill’.
Meanwhile, others thrust bundles of pamphlets titled, ‘Life in the womb’, ‘A modern day Holocaust’, and ‘Are you a good person?’ at various passengers through their rolled-down car window.
Staying calm and collected, the volunteers in their rainbow vests managed to usher the vehicle past the commotion into the parking lot, while deftly guiding another car pulling out.
‘So you’re going to kill your baby?’ Coleman yelled at one departing vehicle through his megaphone.
Turning to him Derenda Hancock, a co-organiser of the Pink House Defenders said nonchalantly, ‘That means move, Coleman.’
In response, Coleman, an emergency room doctor who leads the pro-life group and spends most of his time spreading the Christian ministry, replied sarcastically, ‘Derenda, love my sweet baby?’
Derenda simply retorted: ‘No, I’m as deaf as he is’, referring to the fetus on his sign, and giving Coleman the middle finger.
The overcast, misty morning revealed a typical scene on the days that The Pink House – officially called the Jackson Women’s Health Organization – is open for appointments.
As the state’s only abortion clinic, it has spent years desperately fighting to keep serving women, in light of a Mississippi law that bans abortions past 15 weeks of pregnancy.
Although in England, Scotland and Wales, you can legally have an abortion at up to 23 weeks and six days of pregnancy, in line with the Abortion Act 1967 – while in Ireland and Northern Ireland, it’s 12 weeks – in America abortion limits vary from state to state.
‘This clinic has been the most important thing in the whole area,’ Derenda, 62, told Metro.co.uk.
‘It’s been a possibility it can get shut down for many years now. I mean, it’s been fighting for its life.
‘They’re constantly fighting to keep the doors open so what happens if it’s shut down? Women are forced to bear children they don’t want.’
The Pink House is no stranger to controversy. Several Mississippi Republicans have attempted to close it down over the years, while in 2015 the clinic was severely vandalised. CCTV caught a masked intruder who tried to destroy the generator and took out several security cameras.
When I visited the clinic, it was in the midst of a battle that saw the state of Mississippi ask the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v Wade, which also prohibited states from banning the procedure before fetal viability, something most experts say is around 23 weeks.
Now, with Politico revealing the leak of a draft opinion indicating the landmark legislation guaranteeing the right to abortion would be overturned, it could mean that at least 20 states including Mississippi would immediately or quickly deem nearly all abortions unlawful.
When I spoke to Derenda, who along with other Pink House Defenders volunteers her time eight hours a day on the days the clinic is open, she talked about such a possibility. ‘If that happens, there’s a trigger law on the books in Mississippi so within 24 hours, the clinic would be shut down,’ she revealed.
The Pink House Fund’s statement in full
The Morning After
Many people are looking to us for a comment on last night’s SCOTUS decision leak. It’s been difficult to put into words – words that everyone can understand – how we feel about what is happening, because what is happening now doesn’t just affect Mississippi patients. It affects us all.
For years in Mississippi we watched as our elected officials pumped out restriction after restriction on abortion access. Many times when we thought we would have to close our doors, we were given a reprieve from a judge or court that exists in spaces never usually seen by everyday people. At none of these times did we ever plan on the possibility of actually closing our doors because we are healthcare providers, and healthcare providers don’t ever stop treating patients, right?
But when we heard the various SCOTUS judges at our hearing in December opining on overturning precedent and how women could simply drop their unplanned babies off at the fire station, we knew we were all in trouble.
We have continued providing care to our patients and patients from across the south, and we will continue to do so until we are legally forced to stop. We know there will be no final reprieve at the end of this case. We are exploring all options for continuing to provide care at this time. We will update everyone when there are developments. We appreciate everyone’s continued support as we continue to go into the clinic every day and continue to have “peaceful” protesters outside our doors screaming terrible things at everyone who walks through.
There is much work yet to be done. – The Staff of The Pink House Fund.
In between helping visitors into the building and dealing with the constant white noise of protestors, Derenda also shared that Mississippi is the poorest state in the country and women seeking abortions have nowhere else to get the procedure done.
‘It’s not like they can hop on a flight and go to New York, and they can barely get to Jackson from the Delta,’ she explained. ‘If they can barely get here, they’re probably not going to make it to Alabama or Tennessee, whose clinics will close right behind us if ours is closed. The entire southeast will be an abortion desert.’
However, it’s not just women from Mississippi who are desperately seeking help through the doors of The Pink House. It had also become a destination for those from other southern states, including Louisiana, when Hurricane Ida shuttered its abortion clinics.
But it’s not just Mississipi that’s been fighting to retain the right to terminate unwanted pregnancies. Last year, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments on Texas’ restrictive law banning most abortions after about six weeks. Effective since September 1, the law makes no exceptions for pregnancies from rape or incest and allows individuals to sue doctors or anyone who aids in the abortion being performed.
After the ban came into place, Jackson Women’s Health Organization Director Shannon Brewer wrote on The Pink House blog that they ‘wanted to send out a message of solidarity and unity to our fellow abortion providers in Texas’.
She added, ‘We know that day was a hard day for many, but wanted to share with everyone what it was like for the staff at the only clinic in Mississippi. From 8am until closing, our office was inundated with non-stop calls from Texas patients seeking abortion care….
‘The Pink House is honored to be in the position to provide vital and necessary health care services to anyone who needs them,’ Shannon continued. ‘This is why our staff and doctors walk through throngs of hostile, screaming, and threatening protesters day after day and week after week – because they are dedicated to being there and being strong when they are needed the most.’
‘We have had Texas patients here,’ Derenda confirmed to me. ‘We have a lot already coming from Louisiana, two of their clinics were down for two weeks because of power. So we are so booked up.’
Coleman – who has 12 children including a five-year-old girl they adopted from a woman they convinced not to have an abortion – told me at the time that the clinic shutting down would be ‘a victory’.
‘Oh I’d dance a jig, I would come one more time to celebrate right there on that sidewalk but yeah, absolutely that’s a victory,’ he admitted.
‘That would bless my soul because we do a lot of ministry but there’s so many areas of ministry that I want to be doing that I can’t because this is ground zero to me. Babies are being murdered here so this is ground zero.’
As Coleman blasted gospel songs including God, the Uncreated One (King Forevermore), Derenda shared that she herself had two abortions – one in Oklahoma and another in Florida – because she never wanted nor intended to have children. She revealed that her birth control failed the first time though she took the pill religiously, and she was late in taking it in the second instance.
‘I did what I needed to do,’ she recalled. ‘It was not a tough decision whatsoever. I know for a lot of women this is a hard choice. It was simple for me. I have zero regrets, I did absolutely the right thing and if I were to go back in my life and do it again, I’d do the same thing.
‘And that’s one of the reasons I do this,’ Derenda added. ‘Everyone should have that choice and have access to being able to make that choice.’
As someone who has needed the services of a facility like The Pink House, she’s all too aware of how important the clinic is, and recalled how other women have shown their gratitude for the services inside that are being threatened.
‘There was a woman one time about five years ago that came out, these people were giving her a really hard time,’ she explained, referring to the protestors outside. ‘The anti’s had given her a lot of grief on her way and when she came out, she did cartwheels across the parking lot to show them how excited she was.’
When the Supreme Court appeal to oveturn Roe vs Wade was first announced, Shannon wrote a guest essay for The New York Times detailing how she felt at the time. She admitted she was not concerned because she didn’t think it would take up the case. However, she was wrong.
‘If the ban is upheld and Roe is reversed, it would make an already awful situation yet more dire,’ Shannon wrote. ‘Women may need to drive even farther, across multiple states, to get abortion care. We desperately need – we have long needed – Congress to intervene.’
Then, as the date of the case drew closer, Shannon went on to write on The Pink House website: ‘We don’t know how long we will be able to offer our services. Until we are told we must close our doors, The Pink House Fund is here to offer swift and direct assistance to patients in need.’
Now, even in the face of such uncertainty, the Pink House Defenders remain determined to keep protecting the clinic from protesters and pro-life advocates who are unlikely to give up their cause.
However, Coleman believes that if the Supreme Court upholds the decision, it will see the end of The Pink House.
‘That said, they’ve still got the morning after pills that every pharmacy in Mississippi has, and IVF implanting two, three embryos to the mama and the rest of them will be destroyed or used in research,’ he says. ‘So we’re still killing babies in the image of God, even the moment The Pink House is gone.’
Derenda admitted to me that even if there is any sort of glimmer of hope, she feels that the relentlessness of the pro-life brigade means that The Pink House will eventually crumble one day.
‘It’s just another brick in the wall,’ she said. ‘All they’re doing is trying to pull one here and one there.
However, she added, any sort of U-turn would at least buy them more time, which she believed is ‘what’s important right now.
‘If we can get the Women’s Health Protection Act passed, it’s going to make a huge difference,’ she explained, referring to federal legislation that would protect the right to access abortion care throughout the US.
‘But until something like that happens,’ Derenda concluded, ‘These people and the people that they put into office that are causing all of this – they’re just going to keep chipping away at the wall until it falls down.’
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