Illustration by Maren Slobody
Illustration by Maren Slobody

The only abortion clinic in Mississippi is an unassuming white building located on the north side of Jackson. Its function would probably remain unknown to passersby were it not for the frequent sight of protestors, with signs whose messages range from “Let Us Help You Love Your Baby” to “Never Again” with the image of a coat hanger.

Jan. 22 marked the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade (1973) — a Supreme Court case that affirmed a woman’s right to have an abortion based on the due process clause of the 14th Amendment. However, the very existence of the Jackson abortion clinic is precarious in a state whose governor, Phil Bryant, has publicly stated that he would shut the clinic down if it were in his power.

In 2012, Gov. Bryant signed a law that requires any person performing abortions to be an obstetrics/gynecology doctor (OB-GYN) with privileges to admit patients to a hospital. Local hospitals fear being associated with abortion in a state that narrowly failed to pass a “personhood amendment” — prohibiting abortion from the moment of fertilization in 2011. Now, because none of the doctors working at the Jackson clinic are certified by a local hospital, the clinic has received notice that the state Health Department intends to shut it down.

Mississippi has the highest teenage pregnancy rate of any state in the nation, with 55 births per 1,000 teens in 2010 — 60 percent higher than the national average. Eighty-one districts in the state offer abstinence-only sex education in public high schools, while the other 71 districts teach abstinence with minor instruction in how to prevent sexually transmitted diseases.

In this puritanical environment in which sex is something to be repressed and feared, many young women find themselves pregnant with an unwanted child. Yet they are forced to become parents because they are unlucky enough to live in a state where legislators refuse to uphold a woman’s right to an abortion, despite it being mandated by the Supreme Court nearly half a century ago.

It is unclear whether Mississippi is directly violating Roe v. Wade by making it nearly impossible to obtain an abortion in the state, because the court case didn’t specify whether states were required to provide any abortion services. However, Gov. Bryant and his fellow lawmakers are clearly violating the spirit of the law, if not the letter of it.

Mississippi has a “trigger law” which would make abortion automatically illegal if Roe v. Wade were ever overturned, clearly demonstrating that Mississippi government officials view laws on abortion as unworthy of respect. In the Constitution of the State of Mississippi, the governor swears to “see that the laws are faithfully executed.” By attempting to subvert a Supreme Court ruling and denying the women of Mississippi their right to make decisions about their own bodies and personal health, Gov. Bryant is violating his oath of office.

To assume that anti-abortion measures will prevent abortion is naive. It merely drives women to unauthorized and dangerous sources to obtain abortions. Planned Parenthood gathered data that estimated anywhere between 200,000 and 1.2 million illegal abortions annually in the 1950s and ‘60s, before Roe v. Wade was passed.

Those who assert that abortion should be illegal are denying half the human population autonomy over their bodies. And regardless of a lawmaker’s personal opinion on abortion, if he or she has sworn to uphold the law of the land, to subvert the law without breaking it is underhanded and indicative of an inability to hold office.

We support efforts to keep the Jackson abortion clinic open to ensure that women in Mississippi still have at least this one resource for their reproductive health. Every woman in America, including those of Mississippi, has a right to choose an abortion if she feels it is the best course of action for her. To deny her this right is to imply that a woman is unfit to make major life decisions for herself. Luckily, this archaic mindset was removed from American law in 1973, though the governor of Mississippi has failed to get the message in the intervening 40 years.