“I had no clue that there were states at the time with one abortion clinic,” she says of Jackson Women’s Health Organization in Jackson, Miss. “I was so shocked on how uneducated I was, and that was before there was a lot of coverage about what was happening. But as soon as I read it, I was like sh*t, I gotta go down there and tell this story.”
According to the article, at the time, the Senate had passed House Bill 1390, which states that every doctor in the state that provides an abortion must be a certified OB-GYN with admission privileges to local hospitals. However, when this provision was passed, the clinic already had employed three doctors, all of which are board certified OB-GYNs.
The clinic had a transfer agreement with a local hospital in case emergencies were to happen. Ultimately, it seemed like state officials such as Republican Governor Phil Bryant and the Senate Public Health Committee Chairman Dean Kirby were just out to target the only abortion clinic left in the state. According to The Atlantic, in 2013, before a court case to terminate abortions in Mississippi, Bryant said it was, “the first step in a movement, I believe, to do what we campaigned on: to say that we’re going to try to end abortion in Mississippi.”
In the midst of the clinic’s lonely fight for reproductive rights in a state where acquiring an abortion and sex education is like finding a needle in a haystack, Crow spent four years filming in Jackson to shed light on the issue. On a gloomy June day in Downtown Los Angeles at the LA Athletic Club, Crow and Shannon Brewer, the clinic’s director, are in town to promote Jackson, a feature length documentary exploring all the issues that encircle getting an abortion at Jackson Women’s Health Organization.
The film, which made its debut at the Los Angeles Film Festival, showcases how religion, politics, poverty and societal norms all intersect in this fight. The documentary comes after Crow’s 2013 doc, The Last Clinic, which deals with the same issue in less depth than Jackson.
Jackson conveys both sides of the spectrum. You’ll see women who seek abortions, and women who are totally against them. Its chilling opening is laced with evangelical Christian protesters terrorizing patients and clinic staff outside its pink walls. It’s like witnessing a fight against religious persecution, but only in reverse. The religious (and most likely Republican) are out to hunt Mississippi’s seemingly most vulnerable prey: poor women of color, who for whatever personal reasons are attempting to end their pregnancies the safest way possible. It also doesn’t help that Mississippi is the poorest state in the country with a poverty level of 22.0% (the highest), according to the U.S. Census Bureau. And on top of that, the state has one of the highest teenage pregnancy rates in the country. The Mississippi State Department of Health reports that the state had the fourth highest rate in teen pregnancy in 2015.
Amid the battle, there is a misleading middleman: Crisis Pregnancy Centers. Crow excels at showcasing what these centers do. CPCs are basically faux health clinics run by anti-abortion leaders, and are notorious for giving women inaccurate, biased information on the procedure. According to the Planned Parenthood site, some crisis pregnancy centers, “may tell you that you are not pregnant even if you are. This may fool you into continuing your pregnancy without knowing it. If your decision is delayed, it could make abortion more risky. It could also keep you from getting early prenatal care.” Additionally, they can even show you films to frighten you, or may discourage you from acquiring any form of birth control in the first place.
At press time, an abortion at Jackson Women’s Health Organization can cost anywhere between $600-800, and that’s subject to change. For most women, these prices are unaffordable. The National Abortion Federation provides those without all the funds some assistance. But even that sometimes isn’t enough.
“It’s sad because even when you get help from these funders, a lot of women still can’t come up with the remaining balance. That’s how bad it is sometimes,” Brewer says. “So if you can’t come up with $150-$200, how can you take care of a baby?”
“Go through labor and have a baby first, then tell me what I can do with my body.”
While the 1973 Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade made abortion legal under the 14th Amendment of the Constitution, the Hyde Amendment passed in 1976 has made it nearly impossible for many poor women of color to pay for it. The amendment was passed by freshman Illinois congressman, Henry Hyde, and banned federal funding to help pay for the procedure. Essentially, Medicaid does not cover it, which in turn makes getting an abortion for women who are recipients of Medicaid harder.
But now more than ever, since president-elect Donald Trump’s recent triumph, reproductive rights are in jeopardy. Throughout the Republican campaign, vice president-elect Mike Pence has been extremely vocal about his anti-abortion tirade, and plans to defund Planned Parenthood.
During a vice presidential debate with Democratic Virginia senator Tim Kaine, Pence affirmed that, “For me, my faith informs my life. It all, for me, begins with cherishing the dignity, the worth, the value, of every human life.” In his home state of Indiana, he signed a radical anti-abortion law and defunded Planned Parenthood. And as far as Roe v. Wade goes, Pence had this to say: “We’ll see Roe v. Wade consigned to the ash heap of history where it belongs.”
The defunding of Planned Parenthood not only means that seeking an abortion may become challenging, but also it will prevent women from acquiring adequate health care in general. “The bottom line is that you’re talking about essential health care that 2.5 million people rely on across this country. A large majority of our patients are women with low incomes who often struggle to access affordable health care,” Dawn Laguens, Executive Vice President of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in an email. “Defunding Planned Parenthood means taking away preventive services, like cancer screenings and birth control, that millions rely on. No matter how the legislation would be written—targeting some of the patients who rely on Planned Parenthood or targeting all of them—the impact would be devastating. Public health officials and community health centers themselves have made it crystal clear that no one else could absorb the patients who would be left out in the cold if politicians in Washington take away Planned Parenthood care. These politicians should not play politics with women’s lives.”
This statement holds true, as some parts of the country have already been hit hard with the absence of resources Planned Parenthood offers. Take Wisconsin and Texas, for instance, where researchers have discovered that fewer women have access to cancer screenings since the closure of Planned Parenthood centers. The rate of women receiving breast exams has decreased by six percent due to the 100-mile increase when commuting to the nearest health center; couple that with a nine percent decrease in the rate women acquire Pap tests, a screening procedure for cervical cancer.
Unfortunately, Texas even runs the risks of further defunding. On Dec. 20, 2016, The Texas Tribune reported that the state has 30 days until officials deny Medicaid usage at Planned Parenthood health centers. Initially, in October of 2015, Texas Governor Greg Abbott pledged to terminate the organization’s $3.1 million in Medicaid funding because of the release of several videos, which allegedly show Planned Parenthood officials illegally trading fetal tissue.
In November of that same year, Planned Parenthood filed a lawsuit against Texas officials to protect itself from a letter they received regarding the removal of the Texas Medicaid program. The letter stated that the organization had 30 days to request an “informed resolution meeting.”
“If you can’t come up with $150-$200, how can you take care of a baby?”
Still, nothing happened until now because at the time, Texas officials did not proceed with the suit. But whether or not the defunding takes place is still up for question, considering that federal officials have informed Texas that kicking out Planned Parenthood from the Medicaid program could potentially clash with the federal law. The Obama Administration recently established a rule which does not allow states to block federal funding to health care providers/institutions for performing abortions. Part of the regulations include prohibiting states from denying federal grants for Family Planning at Planned Parenthood.
Yet since Pence’s appointment, Planned Parenthood supporters haven’t kept mum or been passive. At press time, 82,000 donations have been made to the organization under “Mike Pence,” according to New York Magazine. The Guardian reports that in the six weeks since the election, they have reportedly received 300,000 donations, making it 40 times more than its usual rate.
The future of abortion rights is still uncertain, but there are shadows that mirror the future in a post-Trump world. Thirty-year-old Jaime Lee Morales died on July 9, 2016 from complications of receiving an abortion at Liberty Women’s Health Care in Queens, New York. The clinic’s owner Dr. Robert Rho reportedly cut her uterine artery, pierced her uterine wall and tore her cervix. All things of which, ultimately led her to bleed to death.
Now, Dr. Rho is facing a manslaughter charge after Morales’ death. It’s uncommon for something of this nature to happen since abortion is a legal procedure. Yet if Roe v. Wade gets overturned, that could mean an increase in these cases because abortion would lose its legality. More deaths and an influx in lawsuits—it’s like jumping inside a time capsule that transports you backwards in society instead of forward.
“Many of the politicians governing us are out of touch with what people want,” says Kierra Johnson, Executive Director at URGE (Unite for Reproductive & Gender Equity). “The reality is that most Americans believe that everyone should have access to health care, including reproductive health and rights—including abortion, regardless of how people view it personally.”
Like Johnson, many other advocates who are pro-abortion echo these sentiments. “We know that seven out of 10 Americans support legal abortions,” notes Kaylie Hanson Long, National Communications Director for NARAL-Pro Choice America. “The more time politicians spent trying to defund Planned Parenthood and taking away reproductive health resources, the worse off they are going to be with public opinion flowing.”
It’s been six months since our sit-down interview in Los Angeles and Shannon is keeping a tight-lip on any questions related to the status of reproductive rights. When asked about Planned Parenthood, she politely dismisses, but when I ask her over the phone if she could tell Donald Trump one thing, she answers: “Go through labor and have a baby first, then tell me what I can do with my body.”