Last month, the Mississippi Abortion Access Coalition launched an Abortion Patient Bill of Rights designed to educate Mississippi constituents on their abortion options post-Dobbs.
Tyler Harden, a longtime activist and organizer, is the Mississippi state director of Planned Parenthood Southeast – one of a dozen organizations that joined forces to create the coalition, dedicated to ensuring Mississippians have access to safe and legal abortion.
The Abortion Patient Bill of Rights is intended to address misinformation around abortion and was modeled after the Know Your Rights Campaign created by American Civil Liberties Union and other Black Lives Matter groups, according to Harden.
The bill outlines, for constituents, what they can do in Mississippi and where they can go out of state to seek abortion help, and for health providers, what they can say in Mississippi and where they can direct patients out of state.
This comes after Attorney General Lynn Fitch told the Biden administration in a letter back in July that Mississippi authorities need access to information about residents who obtain abortions out of state.
Harden spoke with Mississippi Today on the state of Planned Parenthood post-Dobbs in Mississippi.
Mississippi Today: From where you’re standing, what has the past year looked like post-Dobbs?
Harden: The past year has been one filled with confusion for a lot of people. Through my work in MAAC (Mississippi Abortion Access Coalition) and with PPSE (Planned Parenthood Southeast), we found that a lot of people didn’t know that even if abortion is illegal in Mississippi, with two exceptions, they could still travel out of state and receive care.
So, for a lot of people there’s confusion about what they can and can’t do, what they can and can’t say. And we also, as advocates and activists, have had confusion, as well – just a lot of confusion about ‘how can we show up for people without putting them at risk?’ and things like that.
We have grown to a place now, through my work at Planned Parenthood, I’ve been able to see people grow to a place where this is more real for them. They’re understanding the tangible outcomes of what it means to not have abortion access.
We’ve talked to people who have shared stories about having to, unfortunately, have stillbirths, because they weren’t able to access abortion care even though the doctors and the care providers said that they needed it. So, you know, this isn’t theory anymore for folks, it’s really something tangible that they can see and experience.
MT: You’re the Mississippi state director at Planned Parenthood. What does care at Planned Parenthood look like post-Dobbs?
Harden: Care in Mississippi is really centered on continuing the work of making sure people have access to contraceptives and information they need to plan their health outcomes.
We are now a Title 10 provider, so for the first time in our history of Mississippi, our Hattiesburg health center is able to check in Title 10 patients, to provide even lower-cost health services.
We’re also able to check in with teens and young folks in a different way than we had been. Mississippi has a statute that doesn’t allow teens to access contraceptive care without the permission of their parents – unless they go to a Title 10 provider. And so now that we’re a Title 10 provider, we’re able to connect with young people in a different way.
In the coming year, we’ll be able to have dating ultrasounds, so that people who may need access to abortion care are able to know exactly how far along they are in their pregnancy, and be able to travel out of state, get the information they need, and be able to access the care that they need.
MT: The Abortion Patient Bill of Rights launched last month. What is the main problem the initiative is designed to address?
Harden: Misinformation. It was modeled after the Know Your Rights Campaign started by ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) and other folks leading the Black Lives Matter movement. But there was a lot of confusion, again, about what people could do and what people could say. And especially for Hispanic communities and young people in particular, they’ve been inundated with false claims telling them that the questions and information they wanted to have access to they no longer could. We wanted to give people something a little bit more digestible and easier to read and understand.
MT: How are you seeing misinformation or lack of access to information about abortion negatively impacting people in Mississippi?
Harden: We’ve seen what happens when people aren’t given correct information or accurate information. The Time article that covered the seventh-grader in the Delta who needed care. We know that when people don’t have access to what they need that they aren’t able to make decisions and lead healthy lives, and we know that Mississippians know how to take care of themselves.
MT: What has been the biggest misconception or confusion Mississippians have had over abortion in the last year?
Harden: Questions about whether abortion is banned throughout the entire country have been very common, and also questions about the different timelines and where their closest healthcare provider who provides abortion care – things around that have been very confusing for people.
Also, being able to expose people to information like abortion funds that are accessible, different hotlines that they’re able to call and get information about any legal concerns they may have. And in the case of networking, sometimes linking them to trusted organizations that can help them navigate what it means to learn more about self-managed abortions. So, the confusion has also offered a highway for us to give probably more information than people anticipated.
MT: Who is being hit hardest in Mississippi with misinformation about abortion?
Harden: We know that the Hispanic population is being hit super hard. We also know that young people are being hit super hard with misinformation, on top of not even getting proper information about sex and sex education in their schools – so, misinformation on top of information that they didn’t already receive.
And the Spanish-speaking population oftentimes is ignored in our state…so we’ve done a lot of work to make sure that our technical advice and all of that material is translated for folks who are in the Spanish-speaking community. And also making it digestible, accessible, for people who are young or on college campuses or grew up in parts of Mississippi where they didn’t have proper sex education – which is the majority of us.
MT: Are you seeing those who fall under the state ban’s exceptions – to preserve the life of the pregnant person or when the pregnancy was caused by rape – able to utilize the exceptions, or are those folks getting left behind?
Harden: Those folks are really getting left behind. The state purposely doesn’t make that statute easy to comprehend. So, a lot of times healthcare providers and their legal teams aren’t able to understand what they can and can’t do, and on the other side, they also aren’t making (the exceptions) known among everyday constituents.
And that’s intentional, it’s a fear tactic. So, people usually don’t know about those exceptions and that’s where we really dug in and made sure that we could put this as plainly as possible so that if you did fall under one of those exceptions, or knew someone, or may in the future fall under one of those exceptions, you’ll know what it means and you’ll be able to access care.
MT: What message would you give to Mississippians who are maybe struggling to grapple with the repercussions of the ruling?
Harden: We have always known how to take care of each other as Mississippians. I would encourage them to stay in it for the long-haul. It took us 50 years to get to this point, so it may take us even longer to get to somewhere better. But, we’ll definitely get there and Mississippi will lead the way.