The darkest place in Mississippi

Published 10:02 pm Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Recently I was back at that “loud and proud” pink building I told you about last year. Don’t remember it? That’s ok. We’d all rather forget that there’s an abortion clinic in the heart of our capital.

But there is.

And thankfully there are those who see the Jackson Women’s Health Organization for what it can be — a place to offer options to women who think there are none. People like my friend, Sarah.    

“A lot of times I come out here and I’m nervous,” Sarah admits, shading her eyes against the morning sun. “You wonder what to say, but I know that God’s word will not return void.” So the 21-year-old quotes scripture through the metal bars of the fence as women walk past her on their way to kill their babies.

I am a bystander to her sidewalk ministry, holding out a microphone while she holds out hope.

“Hey, friend, please don’t do this,” she calls out gently to a teenager walking through the gate. “There’s a CPC down the road with free sonograms. Please don’t do this. We care for you. There’s a better way.”

All the while, a city soundtrack plays in the background: Rush hour traffic on North State Street. The beep, beep, beep warning signal of a bull dozer working in the lot next door. A city bus’s hissing air brakes.    

More appointments arrive. Couples with heads down. A woman wearing a hoodie. A young mom with a back seat full of baby equipment.

And I am reminded again that it is 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.

Clinic escorts, wearing neon security-style vests, provide a barrier layer between women coming for abortions and Christians praying on the sidewalk. They walk patients from their cars to the abortion center’s doors. They also banter with pro-lifers: “Who would adopt you?”

But it is their music — coming from devices scattered throughout the parking lot — that often hampers the efforts of the sidewalk counselors. “They bring out the boom box whenever you try to offer help, because they don’t want the ladies to hear us,” Sarah explains. “They try to put up as much resistance as they can.”

Sarah is on a first-name basis with an escort named Dorinda, a plantinum-haired woman in dress slacks, boots and aviator glasses. “We’ve had great conversations,” Sarah says. “We talked about the ark that’s been built in Kentucky and I actually brought her a book back when I went there. She was appreciative.” 

Still, Sarah describes the center’s sidewalks as an oppressive environment that leaves her exhausted after a few hours: “They say this is the darkest place in Mississippi. There’s a lot going on spiritually. You really can see light and darkness.” 

Doug, a preacher who tells me he’s been at this sidewalk praying and pleading business for 31 years, knows the ropes. He stands where he’s allowed to stand and speaks softly to patients emerging from their vehicles. I ask him how it’s changed since the ’80s.     

“Probably the biggest thing is fewer clinics. There’s been as many as eight operating in the state in the past,” he answers. “Now there’s just one.” He adds that he is encouraged by the wave of new pro-life counselors (like Sarah) coming out to help. “Most of them are young — under 30. They’re really taking this issue to heart.”

Abortionists don’t like those demographics. “These young women make an difference, talking to the patients as they walk up and convincing them not to go in,” says Doug. “It has a negative impact on the clinic’s business.”

Then he adds this zinger: The more people on the sidewalk, the fewer people go in. “I’ve seen it time and time again,” he explains. “It’s just a fact.”

Meanwhile, the music from the escort’s boombox blares on. Oddly enough, the lyrics ring pertinent, even if they are from a bygone group like The Human League, with their penchant for synthesizers:

“It seems a little time is needed, decisions to be made,

The good advice of friends unheeded, for the best of plans mislaid.”

Kim Henderson is a freelance writer. Contact her at kimhenderson319@gmail.com.