Who Are the Women Going to the Last Abortion Clinic In Mississippi?
by Sunsara Taylor | August 17, 2015 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
Women are everywhere. They make up half of society. Half of the world’s population. Yet, so much of what women are forced to endure daily is kept invisible. Right now, for example, a vicious war is raging against the right of women to decide for themselves when and whether to have a child, yet almost never do you hear the actual impact this is having on women. Already this year, more than 50 laws have been passed to further restrict abortion rights. Fascist lawmakers are clawing all over each other to be the most extreme in abolishing abortion—and even birth control—yet the women whose lives are being crushed by this are left completely out of the picture.
Week of Taking Patriarchy By Storm, August 2015, at the Pink House. (Photo: Stop Patriarchy)
Recently, I spent 10 days in Mississippi with Stop Patriarchy, standing up for abortion rights and against the entire war on women. Like five other states, Mississippi has only one abortion clinic left. Like a dozen other states, Mississippi forces women to wait at least 24 hours after seeing a doctor before being allowed to get an abortion, forcing women to travel to the clinic at least twice. Like every state, hateful anti-abortion fanatics harass women on their way into the clinics.
What is the impact of these restrictions on real women? How do these restrictions come together with and intensify the overall oppression that women already face?
One way to answer this question is to tell the stories of just three of the women I spoke to at the last abortion clinic in Mississippi during the week of August 2, 2015.
Not long ago, Tamika moved herself and her three small children 2,400 miles from Sacramento, California, to Mobile, Alabama, to be with the man she’d fallen in love with. Only when she arrived did she learn that he already had five children. It wasn’t the kids that bothered her, it was the dishonesty. The lack of respect. She was giving up everything to share a life with him. He hadn’t even bothered to tell her something so big. Now, with her youngest just a year old, she found herself pregnant again.
For weeks, she was paralyzed with indecision. She tried to picture herself with a fourth child, tried to imagine this man stepping up to become a real partner. But this man was completely indifferent to her pregnancy. Not excited. Not worried. Not angry. Just “blank.” The reality became harder and harder to avoid—she was completely on her own. “It took me about seven weeks to realize, six weeks actually, it’s just not going to be right for you. You know, you can’t have this baby. You have this baby, then what? I financially struggle with my three... it would take a toll on me mentally, I would just be a mess.”
She’d driven four hours that morning to get to the clinic and wouldn’t be home until late that night. She’d been called a “murderer” as she walked through the clinic doors. She still wasn’t sure how she would come up with all the money she needed and who would care for her daughters when she had to make the full roundtrip again.
Tears streaked her cheeks as she struggled to find words for the stress she endures trying to provide for her three girls, her heartbreak as she confronted the situation with the man she’d fallen in love with, and the impasse she was facing with her life overall. Reaching further back in the chain of events, she described how her own mother had struggled to raise five children, each a year apart, starting when she was just 16 years old. She admired, even revered, her mother, but never intended to end up in a similar situation. Now, more than anything, she was determined to provide a better chance for her daughters. But the path to do so wasn’t clear. Only one thing was definite: getting this abortion was a necessary first step.
I had noticed her on the way into the clinic. Everyone had. Electric blue afro. Cobalt slip-dress. Sparkling sapphire earrings. Together with her best friend, whose hair blazed fire-engine red, she radiated an irrepressible—and irresistible—enthusiasm for life.
She is young, still living at home. She works full time and goes to school full time and had to push back her appointment because she was having trouble coming up with the money. No one in her family knew. “I didn’t want to be a disappointment to my mom,” she explained. If she had a child, something she considered briefly, she couldn’t imagine staying in her parents’ home. Too much judgment and stress, too much disapproval. But on her own with a child, she’d never finish school. Besides, she wasn’t even sure if she wanted kids ever. Plus, she has sickle cell anemia, a disease that can prove dangerous—even deadly—during pregnancy.
When she spoke of the young man involved, there was a tremor of emotion in her voice that went beyond relief. He didn’t just respect her decision to abort, he admired her for her dreams and didn’t want to see her held back. It was obvious why he would feel that way. She had a quiet confidence that was infectious.
Anger bubbled up when I asked her about the anti-abortion protesters who had harassed her and about the politicians who have fought so hard to close down abortion clinics. “I feel like they are back in the old days, the past times. Like, we are in 2015... If you are able to pass same-sex marriages and marijuana and all that, you should be able to let women do what they want to do. Like, I feel like birth control should be free. That’s a right. You shouldn’t tell that woman you are supposed to have a baby.”
Even with her extremely strict family, even living in a small town in rural Mississippi, she still couldn’t square the broad horizons she had been raised to expect with the reality of restrictions being imposed on her and other women. She had ambitions and she was just starting out, yet here was the state and a bunch of fanatical strangers working to take everything away.
“It’s frustrating, cuz we only have one clinic, so we have to travel far. Well, some of us have to travel far, have to come down here and we have all these state requirements and come back for a treatment and it’s like, what if we don’t live here? What if we don’t have ways or means of transportation to come back here?” For Princess, due to tremendous determination and the fortune of good friends, it was likely that this question would be hypothetical. For many women, it is not.
Mandy had long since given up her job and settled in to domestic life when she learned that her “successful” husband was frequenting prostituted women across the globe on his business trips. Overnight, everything that seemed stable fell apart. Heart-broken and humiliated, she spiraled downward. Two years and two more failed relationships later, she was tens of thousands of dollars in debt and living with an unemployed meth addict. She called it “love,” but knew it wasn’t healthy.
The morning she discovered she was pregnant, she broke her boyfriend’s meth pipe. She claimed he had never been violent with her before. Suddenly, he threw her against the wall and choked her. When she tried to flee, her bare feet were cut open by the glass he had shattered. The violence escalated over days. He choked her repeatedly. He pounded on her thighs and torso and arms, careful—at first—to keep the bruises out of sight. To keep her from leaving, he stole her phone, car keys, money, and shoes. He dragged her by her hair, poured milk on her head, and spat in her eyes.
After each beating, he’d apologize and promise to be a good father. He vehemently and religiously opposed abortion. Secretly, she called the clinic to schedule her abortion. Three times she had to reschedule because she could not get out of the house. She only made it this morning because he had finally found a day’s work and wasn’t home.
The violence and terror had escalated so rapidly and so intensely, this visit to the clinic was her first chance to step back and reflect. She pulled up a photo of herself from just a year ago, “This is who I was. I want to find that girl again.” In the picture, she was quite a bit lighter and beaming behind a pair of glamorous sunglasses. In real life, her face was decorated with deep blue-black bruises.
How was she going to get out of the house again to keep her next appointment, the actual abortion?
She had no idea.
Each of these women told me that their lives would be devastated if they were not able to make it to that clinic, or if that clinic were closed. That is how it is for all women. Being forced to have a child against one’s will is a form of enslavement. It comes on top of and intensifies all the other forms of violence and oppression that women already face. Just like for these women, it hits Black and other oppressed nationality women hardest.
This—and worse—is the future laid out for women everywhere if the nationwide assault on abortion rights and birth control is not stopped.
No longer can those who support abortion rights speak meekly about “choice,” hide behind the euphemism of “health care,” or wring their hands about the supposedly “tragic decision” to abort. No more bending over backwards to show “tolerance” towards those who would force women to have children against their will. No more allowing anti-abortion fanatics to prance around with pictures of fetuses floating on their own, as if there were no woman involved.
The fight over abortion is a fight over women. It is time to tell these women’s stories. It’s time to put women back at the center of the picture. It’s time to demand abortion rights without apology or restriction. It’s time to link this up with the fight against all the chains that bind women.
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