The Jackson Women’s Health Organization is threatened by a 2012 Mississippi law that would limit access to abortions. With the clinic’s fate in the supreme court’s hands, Diane Derzis is focused on the survival of ‘a place that cares’
In 1974, one year after the US supreme court ruled in its landmark Roe v Wade decision to legalize abortions, Diane Derzis stepped into a doctor’s office in Birmingham, Alabama, to terminate her pregnancy. The 20-year-old college student, who had been married, was three months pregnant and wasn’t ready to have a child. So she sat in a crowded waiting room, not knowing what to expect.
“You didn’t have a problem with spreading your legs before, and if you can’t do it now, I’m not going to see you,” the doctor told Derzis. He then performed a safe and routine abortion, which cost $125.
Derzis grew determined to provide other women with a more dignified abortion, to become an advocate for women’s rights, and later an owner of abortion clinics throughout the south. The 61-year-old activist has persevered in her field despite the murder of one abortion doctor, the bombing of her clinic, and the perpetual barrage of protesters seeking to shame her clients.
Now Derzis faces a new threat to the survival of what has become the state’s last standing abortion clinic, this time from Mississippi officials, who have championed a controversial law seeking to shutter the Jackson Women’s Health Organization. The fate of the law rests in the hands of the nation’s highest court.
In the next few weeks, US supreme court justices will hold internal conferences to determine which cases should be heard in its upcoming term. One case under consideration, Currier v Jackson Women’s Health Organization, concerns a Mississippi state law passed in 2012 requiring doctors who perform abortions to received admitting privileges from a local hospital.
Upon its passage three years ago, state lawmakers justified the measure as a safeguard in case of a medical crisis. But some major medical organizations have stated that the extra protection is unnecessary, given that a woman potentially in need of such emergency care would receive treatment from a specialist working at the hospital – not the doctor terminating the pregnancy.
With the law in place, critics say, hospital board members, who are subject to political pressure, have full control over whether doctors can perform abortions.