How a Mississippi town got to the fight over the

Supporters and opponents agree: Mississippi is not Mississippi. And as the state scrambled to offer legislation that would bring the 11 remaining clinics in the US to a grinding halt, one leader said it has more to offer than the luxury of being a haven from burdensome regulations.

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This city is in the news over abortion. But because this is Mississippi, it is about much more than reproductive rights.

Ann Conway’s husband had just turned 60 and she was planning to celebrate with a trip to New Orleans. But it turned out that a trip for the sake of a trip might not be such a bad idea. Last December, on the day after Christmas, he received a letter from a doctor at Jackson Women’s Health Organization telling him he needed a referral for another abortion.

“I was shocked when I first heard this,” said Conway, who met her husband at a baseball game 30 years ago. “I really didn’t know what was happening. Then I heard about the hospital’s role in this and I was really concerned.”

As the medical director at an abortion clinic and the general manager of a pool hall, Conway said the hospital knew she didn’t have time for a second trip. She was left in the lurch because the doctor at WWH was leaving mid-decision and the nearest provider was 33 miles away in Jackson. Conway says she has had two abortions herself and knew how critical it was to keep a clinic in her community.

The news spread quickly and Conway soon began an effort to push back against a Mississippi law requiring doctors providing abortion care to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. With protests rolling into the state Capitol building and rumors that an abortion ban might be passed, Conway was anxious about the future.

But the clinic was still open.

On one side of statehouse lawn, adults of all ages struggled to put a turkey on the grill. Across the square, two abortion rights supporters held signs: “I believe in making our country safe for everyone,” one said. “Abortion is a safe, legal procedure,” read the other.

After 6pm, anti-abortion groups held a rally with chants such as “pro-lifers say no!” Supporters of the law held a press conference to criticize the decision to open Jackson Women’s Health Organization. Then it was on to cookouts.

Later in the evening, the Rev Laurie Clouse stood up at a vigil in her living room and preached against abortion. Clouse, who said she believes that abortion is a “selfish and horrible sin”, echoed the state’s abortion ban governor Phil Bryant, who said closing the Mississippi clinic would be a “tremendous stride” for parental consent laws. A few moments later, she held up a bouquet of white flowers and added that she was praying that the protests would only serve to “create an atmosphere of harmony” between the anti-abortion group and anti-abortion activists. She said Bryant wasn’t the only one who needed to make that shift.

“I haven’t seen that yet,” Clouse said. “They are so angry. So caught up in the minutiae of all of these things that they have been fighting over and so invested in their causes that they don’t see the big picture.”

Hours later, another pair of prayers started with those from the pro-life organizations. There were tearful recitations of the proverbs and stories of children who were returned to their mothers after having abortions. One woman said that in the years she had been pregnant, “I had a plan until that morning” and would pray for her daughter.

The next day, the eighth daughter of JWH staff spoke at the vigil. Her name is Nicole McGuffin and she is the clinic director. At 22, she had the worst case of pre-eclampsia she had ever seen. While the pregnancy was at 21 weeks, McGuffin said the clinic made the decision to terminate the baby’s life as a couple was planning to travel to Louisiana for a C-section to save the baby’s life.

“I hope everyone who has had an abortion becomes their own best advocate,” McGuffin said. “Don’t ever give up.”

Nicole McGuffin. Photograph: Rebecca Lippa for the Guardian

The physician who runs the abortion clinic stood in the entrance lobby of the clinic and noted that during the entire debate, they were “always checking

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