By Emily Wagster Pettus/The Associated Press
JACKSON — Supporters and opponents demonstrated Tuesday outside Mississippi’s only abortion clinic to mark 40 years since a U.S. Supreme Court ruling established a nationwide right to abortion.
Opponents also held two events at the state Capitol, including one where people carried a small white coffin up the outside steps and prayed for an end to abortion. The Rev. Philip “Flip” Benham of Concord, N.C., national director of Operation Save America, said the coffin contained an aborted fetus he calls baby Daniel.
“God, we just want to say for little Daniel that we’re sorry,” Benham said.
The Rev. Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life, stood near the open coffin and encouraged people to take photographs and touch the fetus.
The clinic, Jackson Women’s Health Organization, is in the city’s Fondren neighborhood, an area with trendy clothing stores and restaurants. Lawn sprinklers ran steadily at the clinic and at an unrelated business across the street, keeping anti-abortion demonstrators at a distance in the chilly weather. The clinic sits on a small hill, and the abortion-rights demonstrators stood near the building and above the sprinklers.
Naomia Suggs-Brigety of Oxford, a Jackson State University student who supports abortion rights, said if abortion is outlawed, women will still find ways to terminate pregnancies, even if they are done in unsanitary conditions.
“The only difference in having this clinic or not is you end up with live women or dead women in trash cans,” Suggs-Brigety, 22, said outside the clinic.
A large sign attached to the building declared: “This clinic stays open.” More than a dozen women and men held signs with the slogans “Keep Abortion Legal,” ”Women’s Bodies, Women’s Choices” and “Feminist Majority.”
Across a street, abortion opponents carried signs that said “Abortion(equals)Black Genocide,” ”Children are a blessing from God” and “It’s easy to be pro ‘choice’ when you’re not the one being killed.”
Laura Patout, 55, of Metairie, La., held up a large poster with a photo of a fetus that was aborted at 10 weeks. A full-term pregnancy is 40 weeks.
Patout said she regrets having an abortion when she was 18, when she was about 10 weeks pregnant. She said her boyfriend at the time pressured her to have the abortion because he thought his parents weren’t ready for him to become a father.
“If I would’ve had the knowledge beforehand that my baby was moving around inside of me and had a heartbeat and was actually a baby and not a blob of tissue as I was being told … I wouldn’t have done it,” Patout said.
Music blared from a portable stereo outside the clinic Tuesday, as it often does to drown out the sounds of demonstrators who might try to yell at people inside. The clinic doesn’t see patients every day it’s open, and Tuesday was one of those days with no appointments. Still, several employees were there, eating doughnuts as they watched the demonstrations through tinted windows.
Clinic owner Diane Derzis said the anniversary of Roe v. Wade is “bittersweet” because Mississippi and other states have put many restrictions on abortion over the years, including 24-hour waiting periods.
“For us, it’s a celebration of 40 years of safe medical services,” Derzis said inside the building.
The clinic filed a federal lawsuit last summer to fight a 2012 state law that could eventually close it. The law requires anyone doing abortions at the clinic to be an OB-GYN with privileges to admit patients to a local hospital. Derzis has said the three physicians who do most of the abortions at the clinic have been denied the privileges at every Jackson-area hospital where they applied.
Admitting privileges can be difficult to obtain, either because hospitals won’t grant them to out-of-state physicians or because religious-affiliated hospitals might refuse association with physicians who do elective abortions.
One bill filed in the Legislature this year would ban abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected. Another would regulate drugs that are used to induce abortions. Similar proposals died in 2012.
Republican Gov. Phil Bryant has said repeatedly that he wants Mississippi to be abortion-free and that he would sign additional abortion restrictions into law.
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