• 72°

‘Loud and proud’ pink building is hard to ignore

The Jackson Women’s Health Organization building is painted a loud-and-proud pink and stretches across a corner of prime real estate at North State and Fondren Place. Sidled up near a dry cleaners and across from Walker’s Drive-In, the structure would easily pass for anything but what it is – the only remaining abortion clinic in the state.

Curiously enough, just a few blocks south the University Medical Center’s sprawling campus has its own “only-one-in-the-state” designation. It’s home to Mississippi’s lone Level IV neonatal intensive care unit, enabling the center to provide specialized medical treatment for extremely premature babies born on site or brought in by ambulance and helicopter.

I’m thinking of the irony of that juxtaposition when I pull up near the abortion clinic and approach a gentleman who’s pacing the sidewalk.

“Are you a protester?” I ask, getting straight to the point.

“I prefer ‘pro-life counselor,’” he smiles, and I learn that his name is Adam, and that the soft-spoken engineer is a father of five. I also learn that he has spent 12 years of lunch hours there on the sidewalk beside that pink building counseling and praying. His motivation?

“To be the voice of the voiceless,” he answers thoughtfully, then heads back to work.

That’s when I meet Berkeley, a grandmother-type who’s been at the same sidewalk task as Adam for eight-plus years as part of a Pro-Life Mississippi schedule. “I was called to this,” she tells me, the sunlight reflecting in her glasses. “Even when I wasn’t a Christian, I knew abortions were wrong. I always imagined myself talking to the girls.”

Berkeley shows me where volunteers are allowed to park their folding chairs, as well as where it’s legal to stand and call to clinic patients across the fence. She mentions “there’s a lot of anger here”, then pulls out a life-size model of a baby at 12 weeks gestation and tells me how a similar one once saved a life.

“This car drove up, and a young girl rolled down window. She said she was looking for the clinic, and I could tell she had just had a pregnancy test by the Band-Aid on her arm. I leaned in and said, ‘You don’t want to do this,’ and I showed her one of these models. She took it and drove away. Now she texts me pictures of her two-year old.”

A rubber figure changed her mind?

“That’s what turned the tide,” Berkeley says. “They need to realize it’s a person. There are hard hearts, but not all are hard. We just tell them the truth in love.”

While we talk, a couple comes out of the clinic. Somehow Berkeley knows they’ve had a first appointment and now must wait the required 24 hours before having an abortion. They are flanked by another woman who’s wearing a neon pink vest emblazoned with “pro-choice clinic escort,” and she walks them to their vehicle. I recognize the escort from a news segment ­— her shock of platinum-blonde hair is hard to miss — in which she demonstrated her hula hoop abilities while holding a sign that proclaimed her lack of regret over her own abortion. On this day, however, there’s no hula hoop in sight. Instead, there’s a boom box on her shoulder, and the volume is up. I am told that the purpose is distraction.

“We can help you,” Berkeley calls out to the client over the music.

“Did you see your sonogram, honey?” another volunteer joins her.

The couple look away. They leave through the main (only) gate where a security guard has taken his post and the escort is now sitting in a catcher’s squat, checking her phone. Their Silverado has a Forrest County tag. The Mustang that follows has National Guard plates.

I count 12 cars in the clinic’s parking lot as Berkeley hands a flyer to someone (looks like a mom and daughter) arriving in a Honda from Rankin County. I question her about what happens next. 

“We tell them they can follow us to the CPC (Center for Pregnancy Choices),” Berkeley explains. “It’s about five miles away. We put them in touch with people who can give them options.”

I ask her about the signs you see on the news, the graphic ones.

“Groups come from out of town for a brief time,” she says. “They are the ones that mostly use them. I don’t, but they can be effective. They have saved babies.”

The scene I’m encountering seems remarkably calm, but just last month the City of Jackson entered into its second consent decree with a group of protesters over interaction with the Jackson Police Department. Mississippi Pro-Life alleged that police officers have consistently infringed upon their First Amendment rights, and a federal court agreed, directing the city to implement a mandatory training program in First Amendment rights for its officers, as well as to return materials seized and bonds posted as a result of improper arrests. 

On the day of my visit I don’t see any officers, but I do see signs. A whole row of them. They are posted on the fence by pro-choice advocates and say things like “may the fetus you claim to ‘save’ grow up to be a gay abortion provider” and “mind your own uterus.” They, like the clinic’s pink paint, are hard to ignore.

Perhaps that’s because it’s one thing to hear statistics and read articles about abortion. It’s quite another to stand a few yards away from where they are being performed — loud and proud.

Wesson resident Kim Henderson is a freelance writer who writes for The Daily Leader. Contact her at kimhenderson319@gmail.com.