Last Thursday night, people quietly crowded into theater #9 at Malco Grandview of Madison to see Jackson, the documentary. Jackson shines a light on what life is like in a place where the ‘pro-life’ movement has made access to legal abortion almost impossible. Mississippi has one clinic in the entire state that performs abortion procedures. That clinic, located in Jackson, is affectionately (or despicably, depending who you ask) known as the Pink House or, more formally, Jackson Women’s Health Organization. In the decades since Roe v. Wade, the anti-abortion (ahem..“pro-life”.. but really, let’s call a spade a spade. These folks are pro-birth, maybe. They are certainly not pro-women) brigade has pocketed significant legal, cultural, and political battles, especially here in the Bible Belt. In the years following a hard-fought attempt by state officials to close WHO with H.B. 1390, the stigma of abortion is more obvious than ever here in Mississippi, leaving already-impoverished and marginalized Black women especially vulnerable.
My partner and I arrived a few minutes into the film and took our seats in the second row — the only option we had, really. The place was packed arm to arm with an intently focused crowd. On the screen, a local woman, age 25, named April Jackson, gathered her five children into a tiny kitchen where Barbara Beavers, director of Fondren’s Center for Pregnancy Choices, had arranged a small cake and snacks for one of the children’s birthdays. I realized shortly after this moment that we were sitting directly behind April, her mother, and two adorable babies. Since the documentary’s filming last year, April had given birth to twins — seven children in all.
To offer a little insight, the Center for Pregnancy Choices, the Jackson-based pregnancy crisis center, offers “life-affirming options in close proximity to the last abortion clinic in Mississippi,” per their website. The CPC’s satellite location newly opened in Fondren right across WHO “seeks to render abortion unwanted and unnecessary in the state.” The women who seek counsel there are not offered contraceptives like condoms or birth control but, rather, are encouraged to practice abstinence until marriage. In a panel discussion following the film, Barbara mentions they never refer for abortion no matter the circumstances. In almost the same breath, she *cited* a 20% failure rate of condoms with proper usage (Maybe that puts some things into perspective for you, the reader). The CPC also pledges to support the mother and her child after the birth if they struggle financially. Idealistic, at best, I think. This type of elitism is harmful, to say the least. For many single mothers like April, a low-to-no income woman of color, reproductive choices are an economic privilege, especially considering that even Medicaid does not cover abortion services. Not surprisingly, Mississippi has the highest Google pings for self-abortion in the nation.
According to the Guttmacher Institute, black women are almost five times more likely than white women to seek abortions, a difference that has been attributed to black women’s higher rates of unintended pregnancy when compared with white women. This can largely be attributed to limited healthcare access, geographic location, racism, and nuances in cultural expectations of motherhood. Obtaining an abortion has become difficult for low-income women, especially those who fall into the 59 percent of women who get an abortion after previously giving birth. With no public funding for abortion and a lack of coverage by state-funded health care, many women struggle to afford the procedure and must maneuver the growing number of state-inflicted roadblocks to autonomous reproductive choices. So, this begs the question: what really happens to the black women who face the most stigma, the most risk and the most adversity in choosing themselves first?
To learn more about April, her story, or offer your support to her family, visit her GoFundMe link here: https://www.gofundme.com/support-april-jackson
Visit ShowTime On Demand online or tune in to Showtime Showcase to stream Jackson.