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Mississippi's only abortion clinic has closed its doors for good


It was known as the Pink House, an abortion clinic housed in a pink stucco-clad building in Jackson, Miss. Yesterday, Mississippi's only abortion clinic closed its doors for good. They're packing up their stuff today. The Jackson Women's Health Organization was at the center of the case the Supreme Court used to overturn Roe v. Wade. And earlier this week, a judge rejected the clinic's request to temporarily block the state's trigger law, which, as of today, bans most abortions.

Diane Derzis owned Jackson Women's Health, and she joins us now. Diane, where's your head and heart at right now, considering that you have to close?

DIANE DERZIS: Well, we knew this was coming, so it's bittersweet. But on the other side of that is that there is a lot of women awaiting our services. So we are off to Las Cruces and several other states.

MARTÍNEZ: What have you heard from your patients in Mississippi?

DERZIS: Oh, they're devastated - people sending things, calling. And you would be surprised at how many have no idea that this bill has passed and that abortion is now illegal in Jackson, as well as other states surrounding, so lots of anger.

MARTÍNEZ: Have they mentioned what they're thinking about doing or what their options are?

DERZIS: Oh, they're traveling. You know, it's - we've probably referred 100 people yesterday to a nearby state. So, you know, that's the future of abortion care in America.

MARTÍNEZ: Now, critics of the Supreme Court's decision say that the ruling will only end safe abortions. Have you heard anything about people seeking riskier alternatives - I mean, heaven forbid - to safe abortion care?

DERZIS: Not yet, but it will not be surprising. You cannot tell a woman who is pregnant and does not want to be - I mean, from time immemorial, this has been going on. Abortion has been available. It's just this generation has never known a day without having access. So I think you're going to see a lot of that.

MARTÍNEZ: You mentioned how you made 100 referrals to places outside of Mississippi. How likely is it that the people that are going to be seeking those abortions will actually make those trips, make those journeys?

DERZIS: I think extremely likely. In fact, I can tell you that many of those patients ended up in Columbus, Ga., yesterday. And on the rest of the week, we have a clinic there as well. But, you know, wherever is the closest facility, that's where we're sending them. So right now, Georgia is it.

MARTÍNEZ: You mentioned how you're moving to Las Cruces, N.M. That's a southern part of New Mexico, 40 miles north of El Paso, Texas. Why there?

DERZIS: New Mexico, for the time being, is a very receptive state. We've been welcomed. And that obviously is closer to the Texas and Oklahoma borders and Arizona. So it seemed like one of the places we need to be. You know, that's not for every woman. The East Coast also has and the Midwest has - have facilities that are available.

MARTÍNEZ: And will you be a surgical abortion clinic there in Las Cruces?

DERZIS: We will be, yes.

MARTÍNEZ: OK, because I know that in that part of New Mexico, they don't have any surgical abortion clinics, so...

DERZIS: You're correct.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah, so I'm assuming that you're going to have to be prepared probably to handle a lot of cases.

DERZIS: No question. And, you know, these women - you don't normally find out you're pregnant until you're further along than six weeks in a pregnancy. So by the time travel and all of the rest of those things occur, you're talking about women who are going to be further in their pregnancy, so we're certainly expecting that. And that, again, is another problem with these type of laws. You're forcing women into later gestational ages, and the risks do increase at that stage.

MARTÍNEZ: And considering that you're going to be not that far away, as I mentioned, from the state line there, from Texas - I mean, that's a huge portion of West Texas that you might have to - I mean, are you ready for this? I mean, it sounds like a wave of people might be heading your way.

DERZIS: I think you're absolutely right. I'm not sure we're ready for it. I'm not sure there are enough facilities. Texas alone did 50,000 abortions last year. So for the last eight or nine months, those are the women who've been traveling and having to wait 4 to 5 weeks to even be seen because there were so many of them. Compound that now with that huge swath of the Southern states, and you're looking at a major problem. So I think there have to be more clinics built. There have to be. That's the only way that this can even be addressed.

MARTÍNEZ: And considering that, I mean, in some ways, Diane, you have a target on your back - everyone knows you're moving to that area, and the state of Texas has said that they would be aggressive in charging people, possibly, that make that available to someone that lives in Texas - are you prepared to handle that?

DERZIS: You know, that doesn't frighten me. For years, we've all put our lives on the line, and that is outrageous that you think you're going to interfere in another state's business. But I guess we're going to see litigation. I see many, many years of litigation ahead of us. But as long as it is legal in the state in which we are providing the service, I intend to do that.

MARTÍNEZ: Diane, can you believe that we're all here in this place in history right now?

DERZIS: No, it's - it bodes very ill tidings here. It's the abortion issue, but this is a woman's fundamental right to decide whether or not to have a child. You know, and these are - interestingly enough, not that I need to point this out to you - is - are in states where they could care less about those who are born and only care about them when they're in utero. It's - I think we're going to see a lot of changes this country is undergoing. We've got to turn out in 2022 to vote. And if you don't vote that single issue, we're in trouble. You know, we're talking birth control. We're talking gay rights. All of these rights were found on the right to privacy, which the Supreme Court just struck down.

MARTÍNEZ: Well, you mentioned the Supreme Court, Diane. Considering still a fairly young conservative majority in the Supreme Court, how do you see this larger fight for reproductive rights playing out?

DERZIS: It's going to be a battle. I don't think that - I know my generation will not see it ever come back like it - like we've been accustomed to having it. You know, these - you're right. These guys are on for life. And this is why it's so important when you pick a president and when - you know, we need to start listening to people. When they tell you what they're going to do, you need to believe them. This is exactly what Trump said. So in the future, you've got to take a look, and you've got to get out and vote. This is your life as well.

MARTÍNEZ: Diane Derzis of Jackson Women's Health Organization. Diane, thanks for sharing your story with us.

DERZIS: Thank you for having me. Have a good day. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.