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The Pink House

Jackson Women’s Health Organization and abortion justice after Roe

Jackson, Mississippi abortion justice leader Derenda Hancock describes the Jackson Women’s Health Organization’s history and closure and explains why the abortion justice movement must ramp-up clinic defenses in the coming days. This article is based on her talk at Socialism 2022.

I come to you from where it all started, the place that nobody has ever cared about. I live in Mississippi, the poorest state in the nation. We have a 25 percent poverty rate. The capital city, Jackson, has no running water right now. It probably won’t for several more weeks. Mississippi has the highest maternal mortality rate in the nation as well as the highest teen birth rate. With Mississippi’s long history of oppression, having won the case that overturned Roe v. Wade is their biggest source of pride for those in control of our state.

Jackson Women’s Health Organization opened in 1995 and, for the last 18 of those years, it has been the only abortion provider in the state of Mississippi. I’ve been a volunteer at the clinic for over 10 years. I’ve been in that parking lot with patients, and, more importantly, standing against its anti-choice protesters.

On July 6, everything changed.

Light shines from the window of a pink house at night. The Pink House is the home of the Jackson Women’s Health Organization. The two-story house has a fence wrapped in black fabric.
The Pink House. Photo by Derenda Hancock.

Here is a picture of the clinic. She’s beautiful, isn’t she? Sure, that bright coat of Pepto pink paint that Diane “dressed” her in 10 years ago has faded under the hot Mississippi sun. We rather like that faded look. It’s a gentle and calming pink. There are a few small cracks running up the sides of that building. Those are battle scars! 27 years of fighting just to keep your doors open can do that to you.

The wrought-iron fence that serves as a barricade between the patients and the antis still stands strong. The bits of rust here and there represent the hate projected by the antis that was filtered out by that black-clothed barrier. It may not have muffled their persistent yelling, but it blocked those judgmental stares.

At the bottom of the steps leading to the clinic door is a small patio area known as The Pit. Under the canopy that shields from the sun and the rain sits a simple metal table, a few chairs, and a cooler filled with water. Patients can recompose themselves there after walking the gauntlet across the parking lot or to wait there out of sight of the antis for their ride to return.

Between both tears and laughter, friendships have begun at that table. The Pit served as a small sanctuary in the middle of all of the chaos.

The cold, gray sidewalk has long served as the battleground of a war that never should have been. One’s personal health care decisions are not a combatable issue, but for years, those seeking abortion access were forced to be soldiers and fight for their own bodily autonomy. If these sidewalks could talk . . .

A black tent shields the patio of the two-story Pink House at night.
The patio of the Pink House. Photo by Derenda Hancock.

There she sits in all of her glory! No hiding in the shadows, right on top of that hill, pink and proud for everyone to see. She’s been a beacon of hope and refuge for all of those in Mississippi and surrounding states who needed her services.

It’s all over now, y’all. The light that shined so brightly is no more. This afternoon, the Pink House will lock her doors for the final time. Know that she never backed down, and she went out fighting for all of you! Today, safe, legal abortion in Mississippi and the Pink House have both come to an end.

Only July 6, the Pink house joined the ranks of 48 abortion clinics that have closed in the last two months. Abortion is now illegal in 12 states: Alaska, Arkansas, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, and Wisconsin. It is likely that Indiana will be added to that list. Georgia and Ohio both have six-week bans in effect. The bans have been temporarily blocked in five states: North Dakota, South Carolina, Utah, West Virginia, and Wyoming. But those blocks are not likely to stand.

So how did we get here?

Founded in 1969, the National Organization for the Repeal of Abortion Laws (after 1973, the National Abortion Rights Action League or NARAL) engaged in controversial direct actions. They distanced themselves from the lobbying approach that Planned Parenthood and other organizations were taking. Along with NOW, the National Organization for Women, and the Feminist Majority, they organized demonstrations and direct actions nationwide and consistently until Roe v. Wade was won. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, when clinics were being blockaded, the Feminist Majority recruited and trained thousands of volunteers to actually defend abortion clinic patients and staff.

With all of this force on the ground, what happened?

We stopped defending the clinics! One misstep was the conversion of clinic escorts to non-engagement under the guise of creating less chaos. Anti-abortion protesters create chaos whether we engage them or not. When we stopped defending, we rolled out the red carpet for the antis. Without a pushback, they gained more and more ground.

With the passage of the Federal Access to Clinic Entrances Act in 1994, we got comfortable, and the “big elephant” in the room—Planned Parenthood—convinced everyone that this war could be won through the legislative process and in the courts.

Now, here we are. Where do we go from here?

We all know that we have to get back in the streets, but you can’t win a war if you don’t know two things: Who is the enemy? And what is their goal? The enemy—the anti-abortion movement—is a Christian nationalist movement, and its goal is to make the United States a theocracy. They believe that there is no law except God’s law.

Abortion is only one item on an incredibly long agenda that includes same-sex marriage, voting rights, immigrants, atheists, anyone who doesn’t look like them and believe as they do. The Director of Operation Save America (which is an offshoot of Operation Rescue), Jason Storms, was hanging off of the scaffolding in D.C. on January 6 at the Insurrection. So don’t think for one minute that abortion is their only priority.

It would be incredibly bold of us to think that the reproductive rights community, no matter how energized or angry we are right now, could win this war alone. It will take all of us. In order to recruit more comrades to our cause, we must refer to abortion as what it really is: a human right.

This may not be a popular opinion, but coming from one of the states that has already lost this battle, what we have to do is move on. We must donate to abortion funds and practical support funds and try to help get our people where they need to go. to We must protect the states that still have access.

First, we have to do that by prioritizing clinic defense. We cannot be silent and turn our backs but must confront and engage the enemy where they stand. The Christian nationalist movement is mobilizing forces in all of the “safe” states right now. Clinic blockades will become commonplace again and can only be stopped with a show of force.

If we don’t stand our ground at the clinic doors now, there will be no clinics left to defend.

Mass protests and direct action are mandatory if human rights are to be salvaged. The five states that now have temporarily-blocked bans—North Dakota, South Carolina, Utah, West Virginia, and Wyoming—need to be occupied. We need to occupy the steps of the state capitol in every one of those states and demand that these bans not go into effect.

The Occupy movement, though flawed, brought the issues of social injustice and wealth inequality to the general public’s attention, and people acted. Though short-lived, there were more than 900 occupations. We must create the same numbers, energy, and anger on an equal scale.

In order to do so, the public has to be educated on who these Christian nationalists are and what they really want: a theocratic society. If we fail at doing this, any other strategies or tactics simply won’t matter. It will all be too late.

Featured Image Credit: Photo by SHYCityNikon. Image modified by Tempest.

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Derenda Hancock View All

Derenda Hancock has coordinated the Pink House Defenders since 2013. She was also an organizer of the Occupy Jackson movement and for many years managed corporate restaurants nationwide. Derenda decided to make a change, stepping away from management so she would have time to devote to clinic defense and activism at the Jackson Women’s Health Organization. She lives with her partner James and dog Daisy in Brandon, Mississippi.