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Anti-Choice Protesters in Jackson Meet Their Match

July 20, 2006

A third of a century after Roe v. Wade legalized abortion, women in the U.S. struggle daily to defeat federal and state infringements on reproductive rights and a woman's control over her life. But in Jackson, Mississippi, this week, that battle was much more basic, as Operation Save America (OSA) arrived in the city, vowing to close down the state's last remaining clinic that provides abortion services. OSA protesters, however, ran into a determined service provider—Susan Hill, who operates several clinics in areas heavily targeted by abortion opponents—and an energized pro-choice movement as well. “The clinic’s owner is an extremely business-savvy, intelligent woman who is not going anywhere,” said Michelle Colon, president of the Jackson area chapter of the National Organization for Women. “She’s passed all of the state’s requirements and as long as she’s here, I’m here, other young and old activists are here, we’re going to continue fighting for our reproductive rights.” The eight-day protest began Saturday, July 15, when OSA (formerly Operation Rescue) and its leader, the Reverend Flip Benham, descended on Jackson with the aim of “storming the gates of hell in the strong name of Jesus Christ.” Despite protesters on its sidewalk, the Jackson Women’s Health Organization continued to function, although during the first few days it scheduled patient visits before the picketing began. Perhaps frustrated, OSA affiliates used the opportunity to advance other fundamentalist ideas by denouncing Islam and ripping pages of the Quran and burning a gay-pride flag. A pro-choice counter-rally Saturday was interrupted when authorities received a call and investigated a suspicious package at the rally site, but police found no explosives in an initial investigation. Nancy Kohsin-Kintigh, field organizer for the National Clinic Access Project of the Feminist Majority Foundation, would not have been surprised by a threat of violence. “This type of action—scare tactics—are just one example of what abortion providers must go through every day,” she said. “The anti-abortion people even went to the home of the physician from this clinic and harassed his neighbors door to door.” “You know, I’m so disappointed in Benham,” added Colon. “He’s losing his vigor. We expected many more people to come out here, and there were fewer than 50 outside the clinic. Meanwhile we’ve had support from all over the country as well as from the local community.” Colon and other organizers plan a March for Mississippi Women on July 22 that would end at the state legislature, urging lawmakers to protect the reproductive rights of Mississippi citizens. (For local information and updates, call 601-927-0598.) Meanwhile, according to local reports, Benham said he will target other “gates of hell” and areas of influence in Jackson, including Millsaps College, which is near the clinic, and The Clarion-Ledger.