A year after the loss of Roe v. Wade, Gulf South residents reflect on abortion rights
A year ago, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled to overturn Roe v. Wade, ending federally protected abortion access for millions of Americans.
Since then, laws have been proposed to ban abortion pills, legislatures have begun to increase tax credits for anti-abortion centers and women have continuously had life-threatening medical emergencies. Hospitals across the region continue to shutter their labor and delivery units, and health care budgets are being slashed.
The Gulf States Newsroom asked Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi residents when they realized things had changed after the ruling.
The responses varied greatly, from a nurse in Louisiana who has seen firsthand what an abortion ban means for her patients, to a pastor in Mississippi who uses her faith to inform her congregation on abortion rights, and a legislator who helped the law that became Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization pass through the Mississippi legislature.
Here are their stories:
The following transcripts have been edited for clarity and length.
Name: Ren Allen, law student
Experience/memory: The moment the Dobbs decision hit. It was like getting hit with an avalanche that you saw coming from a mile away. You know, it didn't matter how far away the avalanche was, you are not going to outrun an avalanche.
And the way that you prepare for an avalanche is that you dig a hole and you cover your mouth so you can breathe and you make sure that you do whatever you can to make it as obvious to your rescuers where you are. You know, you make it as easy as possible to survive.
You don't give up. You don't try to outrun it. You burrow. And then this whole year has felt like I'm digging myself out of the snow and I am not alone. There are people digging out with me. I'm also very aware that there are people digging down to me, you know?
Name: Whitney Sides Mitchell
Experience/memory: I realized things were different at my last yearly OBGYN appointment. I spent the first decade of my marriage struggling with infertility. I wasn't just trying to have a baby and not having success, I suffered several miscarriages and every time the pregnancy would fail the doctors would recommend a procedure, known in shorthand as a D&C, to clear the uterine lining after a miscarriage.
Doctors also do the procedure to diagnose and treat a number of uterine conditions. After the Dobbs decision, many restrictive states like Alabama made this procedure less and less available. There were whispers of doctors or providers being prosecuted for even performing it.
As I sat in a cold exam room, I knew my time having babies was up — thanks to a hysterectomy last year. But what about all the women just like me who were going through the worst moments of their lives alone in the same room?
Experience/memory: Being a nurse who worked in maternal child health care in the greater New Orleans area for seven years, I realized immediately what the impacts of Roe being overturned were.
My husband and I started trying to have a baby a few months before that decision came out of the Supreme Court. Asking me to not have access to basic health care during pregnancy in a place as dangerous as Louisiana was pretty much the last straw for us. We have been talking for a while about moving out of state, and this is the issue that got us to finally pack everything up and move North.
Whether people want to admit it or not, abortion is health care. Abortion is the treatment for miscarriages, ectopic pregnancies, fetuses that die in utero, and a lot of other problems that people who don't work in that field simply do not understand. Women should be able to make the best decisions for themselves after speaking with their doctors, families and most trusted friends.
Name: Andy Gipson, agriculture commissioner
Experience/memory: Well, I think the moment that Roe was overturned and the moment that abortion as we knew it ended in Mississippi, it gave us a pivotal moment.
How do we put in place policies that will promote the embracing of lives and to care for children? And the good news is we already had in place a network of Centers for Pregnancy Choices across Mississippi. So the state decided to ask the question; what can we do to support the work of these nonprofits in the form of tax incentives and so forth?
Because we know we can’t just say we’re pro-life and against abortion, we gotta be pro-life in the sense that we do embrace and we want to support and have that network of support for our moms and for babies across Mississippi.
Name: Rob McDuff, civil rights lawyer
Experience/memory: The real victims in this tragedy are the future patients in the clinic who no longer have a right under the law to make their own decisions about whether and when to have children. And they no longer have a clinic where they can get this important part of medical care.
And so I'm sad that I'm not able to represent clinics because the clinics have been abolished.
But really, the people who have suffered the most are the women in Mississippi who can't make this choice. The people who worked in the clinics and worked so hard to support women in that position who were making this difficult decision but were able to at least make it themselves and not be told by the state that they had to bear children against their will.
And so that's, that's where the real tragedy is.
Name: Diane Derzis, former owner of Jackson Women's Health Organization
Experience/memory: I had pretty much thought this through. And even though I knew it was going to happen when it happened, it was absolutely unbelievable. I guess, you know, it's like, we only could imagine what it meant. But I don't think any of us imagined how bad it was going to get and how much worse it can and will get.
It was surprising how many, and even to this day, how many people do not know that Roe v. Wade was overturned. Or, in fact, what Roe v. Wade was.
But, you know, that’s part of it, for the people who are using these services — the everyday men and women, why would they think about that? Life goes on for them and it’s a totally different thing. And no one ever thinks they’re going to need this service. I mean that’s the last thing on your mind, you know?
Name: Michelle Colon, Sisters Helping Everyone Rise (SHERO)
Experience/memory: I’m still doing what I do. I’m still working and defying this in regards to helping pregnant Mississippians seeking abortion healthcare care access. I’m helping them navigate this system. And that means if I have to drive them myself, that means if contributing to the procedure, contributing and providing practical support such as gas, lodging, food and things like that.
And, I continue to fundraise, not only in Mississippi and throughout the South but also for indigenous women out in Arizona and New Mexico.
The work continues because, just like we know and we’ve said, this law was not going to stop the need for abortion. It just created another barrier.
Name: Derenda Hancock, former Pink House Defender (abortion clinic safety escort)
Experience/memory: It's just like everyone accepts that's just the way it is now. How can you just be so passive when not only are your rights at stake in so many instances, your life is at stake?
What I don't get is — I don't get any of it — but particularly all these women that are having miscarriages or, you know, fetal anomalies. These are women out there with wanted pregnancies that have to be terminated to save their lives. And we're just accepting that, too.
There’s all kinds of chatter out there, you know, on Facebook on the interwebs whatever you want to call it — Twitter. “Oh I’m pro-choice, oh I support, oh we’re not going back.” I hate that line. We’re already back. The antis have won, you know? Everybody says they’re going to push back but it’s just on social media. Who is actually on the ground against these people?
Name: Therese Matthews
Experience/memory: I realized that things have changed a few months ago when it wasn't easy access to things like birth control and so on for the students I have.
It wasn't as easy access to get those things for them, and that we, as educators and schools, sometimes have to figure out ways to help them, you know, parents fund that money. And where that when naturally they would have gotten it for free for some kids at least. And a lot of them still do, but that's definitely changed a lot.
Name: Rev. Elizabeth Davidson, Executive Director of Faith in Women
Experience/memory: There have been so many more conversations with people of faith and especially with Christians asking questions. And for a lot of people, it's like the first time that they've had a pastor or somebody in their church community allow them to say, well, what does the Bible actually say about that?
Because, I think for a long time, just even the word abortion was such a hot topic that people were afraid to even mention it.
So, I have definitely seen an uptick in people being very transparent and courageous in sharing their stories and around their reproductive lives, whether that's needing and accessing abortion or just, hey, it would have been really helpful for me to have this medication that's no longer being offered, even in many cases for folks experiencing a miscarriage and just the hell of that.
Of course, there's a part of you that is like, we needed this before the fall, but they're here now. And so we're thankful for those that are here now.
Name: Jameson Taylor, lobbyist who helped draft Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban
Experience/memory: Personally, in the aftermath of Roe's reversal I've been surprised to learn that pro-lifers are not at all united on other issues. And that's to say that, for instance, some pro-lifers are not socially conservative in other ways. Some of them are not fiscally conservative. In fact, the opposite. Some don't care about politics at all if the battle's not about life.
And so as I kind of look at the conservative movement, you know, I talked about this idea, this kind of quest for our identity and our modern culture. But as I look at the conservative movement, my conclusion is that the pro-life movement has served as a kind of duct tape, keeping together a very diverse collection of conservative voices and opinions. And with the Dobbs decision, I think to some extent, that duct tape has been ripped off so that it's now more difficult to perceive what conservatism is in practice.
Mary-Scott Hodgin, Maya Miller, and Rosemary Westwood contributed to this story.
This story was produced by the Gulf States Newsroom, a collaboration between Mississippi Public Broadcasting, WBHM in Alabama, WWNO and WRKF in Louisiana and NPR. Support for reproductive health coverage comes from the Commonwealth Fund.