Jackson Womens Health Organization staff escort a young woman away from shouting anti-abortion protesters in Jackson, Friday, June 24, 2022. After 50 years, the Supreme Court overturned Roe vs. Wade. Credit: Vickie D. King/Mississippi Today

On Friday morning, Brooke Jones was at work at Mississippi’s only abortion clinic, performing an ultrasound, when her aunt called – twice. 

“She usually doesn’t call when I’m at work,” Jones, a sonogram and lab tech at the clinic, said. “I called her back when I finished my patient up. She was like, ‘Have you heard? I said, ‘Heard what?’ She said, ‘They overturned it.’”

Jones rushed into the hallway, where her colleagues were gathered. They were sad, she said. It felt like a heavy weight had settled onto their shoulders. They were also confused about what the sudden elimination of a constitutional right would mean for the 20 or so patients already in the building.

“We had to tell the patients, we’re not sure if it’s going to be in effect immediately,” Jones said. “It was really emotional for the first 30 minutes, because we honestly didn’t know what to do.”

The patients were scared, Jones said. One asked if she could have her $150 back. That day, the clinic was packed with people from out of town – some clinics around the country had already stopped offering abortions in anticipation of the ruling. One woman said she had driven six hours and just wanted to know if she would be able to get her pills. 

Then, clinic director Shannon Brewer, who was in New Mexico working on plans to open a new abortion clinic there – dubbed Pink House West – told staff to continue with business as usual. 

The workday resumed, busier and more urgent than ever. Jones helped call patients who were scheduled for July to move their appointments up. They finished the pre-op work and got ready for surgical abortions. When owner Diane Derzis and escorts held a press conference outside, staff tuned in from inside the clinic but kept working, just as they plan to do through at least July 6. 

In some states with laws on the books that banned all or most abortions in the event Roe was overturned, legal abortions ended soon after the ruling was issued on Friday. Louisiana’s three clinics stopped performing abortions almost immediately. The West Alabama Women’s Center in Tuscaloosa canceled about 100 appointments. One of two abortion clinics in Memphis, which frequently serve patients from northern Mississippi, has stopped providing the service

Legal challenges against the trigger bans have now led to the resumption of legal abortion in some places, including Louisiana, at least temporarily. 

But at Mississippi’s only clinic, procedures have continued as normal since the ruling.

The state’s trigger law comes with a 10-day waiting period, which didn’t start until Monday morning, when Attorney General Lynn Fitch certified that Roe v. Wade had been overturned. 

That means that as clinics across the South and Midwest close – if they hadn’t already shut their doors to people seeking abortions – the Pink House stands, at least for a few more days, like a battered island in a rising sea. 

“I will tell you this – any patients who contact us, we will see them,” Derzis said during the press conference. “We will make sure we see them in those 10 days. A woman should not have to leave the state to receive health care.”

On Monday, attorneys for the clinic filed a legal challenge to the trigger law based on a 1998 state Supreme Court ruling that abortion is protected under the Mississippi constitution. If the lawsuit does not result in a delay to the trigger law, the last day of legal abortion in Mississippi will be July 6. 

Until then, tensions outside the clinic are likely to rise, as clinic staff and escorts try to ensure patients can make it to their appointments, while emboldened but frustrated anti-abortion demonstrators aim to stop them.   

“I have done this nine-plus years. I have never been so beat down,” Derenda Hancock, who has coordinated the Pink House Defenders clinic escort program since 2013, said on Tuesday morning. 

Every day the clinic is open, she and other volunteers stand outside in rainbow vests, directing traffic as protesters try to flag down people headed to the clinic and persuade them not to go inside, or yell at them over the fence. Now, they’re staring down the clock for the final time. 

The clinic has added extra shifts, and some days the escorts are spending 11 hours outside, surrounded by the usual protesters and by reporters from around the world. 

At times, the small side street that leads to the clinic’s parking lot has been completely congested, backing up traffic into State Street. Hancock said the Jackson Police Department and Capitol Police have largely ignored escorts’ calls and requests for help maintaining access to the road and clinic, except for when they called to report that Dr. Coleman Boyd, a regular protester outside the clinic, had bumped his vehicle into an escort.

Boyd said he is not convinced he bumped her. 

“It’s been crazy,” Boyd said. “I mean, lots of journalists, which is kind of a pain for everybody cause we’re trying to talk to ladies and it’s just more congestion. There’s cars everywhere in the way. That part just makes it congested for the ladies to get up the street, which is okay by me, but it’s lots more emotion on the street.”

The Jackson Police Department and Capitol Police did not return calls from Mississippi Today.

Jones said that on Friday, patients frantically called the clinic to ask if it was still open. Some of them were confused by protesters outside insisting that the clinic was closed. 

Brooke Jones poses for a portrait in Pearl, Miss., Wednesday, June 15, 2022. Jones is a sonogram tech at the Jackson Women’s Health Organization. Credit: Eric Shelton/Mississippi Today

At the press conference Friday, Derzis said the FBI had visited the clinic to discuss concerns about possible violence by supporters of abortion. Nationally, the FBI is investigating “a series of attacks and threats targeting pregnancy resource centers and faith-based organizations across the country,” the Washington Examiner reported earlier this month. None of Mississippi’s nearly 40 crisis pregnancy centers have been affected, according to a list compiled by the organization Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America. 

Stalking, blockades and assaults against abortion providers rose significantly in 2021, a report released in May by the National Abortion Federation found. 

Katie Greenleaf, public affairs officer at the Jackson division of the FBI, declined to answer questions about the FBI’s communication with the clinic.

“The FBI will continue to work with our federal, state, and local law enforcement partners to ensure the safety of our communities while respecting individuals’ First Amendment rights,” she said in an email. “Our focus remains on protecting peaceful protestors from those threatening their safety with violence. FBI personnel are assessing intelligence to detect potential threats of violence and are in constant communication with our partners.”

The clinic has hired private security guards to protect patients and staff as they go into the clinic.

On Tuesday morning, one security guard – who asked not to be identified because he had taken time off from his regular job to work at the clinic – said he considers himself “95% against abortion.” 

“But it’s not my body, not my wife, not my child,” he said. “I’m a big believer in giving people space.”

On Saturday, he had spent about 10 hours trying to keep the peace among dozens of people, including anti-abortion protesters who made what he called “disrespectful ethnic statements.” Many of the patients and staff at the clinic are Black women, and the protesters, almost all of whom are white, frequently invoke race

“‘How can you be Black security guards around the Black women killing Black babies?” the security guard said he was asked.

“They said to my supervisor– ‘You don’t have a father in your life,’” he said. “I’m like, really? You didn’t ask me a question.” 

Some of the regular protesters at the clinic expressed frustration that Fitch had not immediately certified that Roe had been overturned. 

On Monday morning, Pam Miller and Patty Fultz were praying outside the clinic, which was closed for the day.

“Each day it’s closed, it’s that many fewer babies dying,” Fultz said. 

“Moms are coming from all over,” Miller said. “It just makes me sad that it couldn’t be immediate. Now you’ve got time for people that are already mad to get madder, and act out.” 

In Arkansas and Missouri, state officials certified that Roe had been overturned on Friday.

Michelle Williams, Fitch’s chief of staff, defended the timing in an email to Mississippi Today. 

“Just as with our work to secure the victory in Dobbs, we were and remain focused on working as expeditiously as possible, but in a correct and orderly way to ensure an enduring victory for life,” Williams wrote. 

Pink House leaders are planning to open the new clinic in Las Cruces, New Mexico within a few weeks. Some of the Jackson employees would like to move there to keep working.

At work on Friday, Jones cried, thinking about what the ruling will mean for women in Mississippi and across the country. She thought especially about the teenagers – girls around the age of her youngest sister – who have come to the clinic during her two years working there. 

“If she got pregnant and she didn’t want to keep it, I couldn’t imagine her not being able to have this abortion and continue with her life as a child,” Jones said. “She’s a child. I just could not imagine that.”

She had expected the ruling Friday, and when she dressed for work she put on a T-shirt listing the Supreme Court cases that established and reaffirmed the right to abortion: Roe, Casey, WWH (Whole Women’s Health), June. At the bottom of the list was Jackson, referring to the clinic where she works. Seeing the shirt as she left for work, her aunt told her she must want drama.

“I was like, ‘No, I don’t, I just want to be in support of the clinic,’” she said.

A protester noticed the shirt, too, when she walked past him that day around 8 a.m. 

“He was like, ‘You need to change that shirt and put Dobbs on the end because we’re gonna win,’” she said. “He was right. But I didn’t change the shirt.”

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Isabelle, an Atlanta native, covers health as part of Mississippi Today’s community health team. Prior to joining Mississippi Today, she was a reporter for the Biloxi Sun Herald and a Report for America corps member.