A woman who heads a reproductive rights organization in Mississippi said she would continue to help people access abortion services, in defiance of the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe. c.Wade.
On Friday, the highest US court upheld Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban and, in doing so, overturned the landmark 1973 ruling that enshrined abortion as a constitutional right.
The decision will have an immediate effect on access to abortion in the United States, where at least 13 states have anti-abortion laws designed to take effect with the fall of Roe.
Mississippi has a trigger law that bans all abortions except in cases where there is a criminal charge of rape, or to protect the life of the pregnant person. It will go into effect when the state attorney general certifies it, likely within days of Friday’s ruling.
Under the trigger law, “any person, except the pregnant woman, who deliberately, knowingly or recklessly performs or attempts to perform or induce an abortion” could face between one and 10 years in prison .
Michelle Colón is the executive director of Sisters Helping Every Woman Rise and Organize (SHERo), an organization that advocates for reproductive rights and helps connect black and brown people to abortion services. Here is part of his conversation with As it happens guest host Tom Harrington.
Michelle, as a Mississippi woman today, how do you feel?
As a black woman in Mississippi today, I am not surprised by this SCOTUS decision. [the Supreme Court of the United States]. It is still devastating.
SCOTUS has made it clear that they don’t care about the lives of women, girls and pregnant people, they don’t care about our health care, our existence, our lives. They made that clear with today’s decision, and also by standing up for white supremacy. That’s what I feel.
You get calls from women in Mississippi about an abortion. What do you tell them?
I tell them I’m here for them and… that abortion won’t be legal here in Mississippi. But there are still other options. There are still clinics where we can take them. There’s also, you know, self-managed abortion.
Have you received any calls since the decision was…announced?
The people I’ve talked to and worked with, I’ve prepared them for this. So people know how to get in touch with me. And I’m going to tell them the same thing — that this decision, as I said, while it was anticipated, I will challenge this decision.
What SCOTUS has done is basically condemn pregnant women to travel across the country for treatment. It is an undue burden on them and also on providers in states where abortion is safe.
I will defy this decision, defy this law, with all my being. It is unfair. It is discriminatory. It’s misogynistic. It’s racist. That’s all. And so I will continue to let everyone who calls me know. And I will do everything to help the people of Mississippi access the abortion-related health care they need and deserve.
When you get a call from a woman wanting an abortion, what is her story? Give me an example of the kind of things you hear.
No matter their story. Someone is not ready to become a parent. Someone is not ready to give birth and have a child. So I don’t care, you know, what their reason is. I don’t ask that and I don’t demand that of anyone. If they want to tell me, fine.
My job and dedication is to help these people navigate a system, get them what they need, and get what they need with the lowest level of stress possible.
More than half of the country will be affected by this because now abortion will be criminalized. The other half of the country, i.e. states where abortion is safe or states that are somewhat safe, will also be affected, as they will have to navigate their existing systems to manage an influx of patients from across the country for abortion procedures. It’s history.
You talked about defying the law. How do you do this?
I’m not preparing to share my plans with you because… I would incriminate myself. The only thing I can say is that I will defy this law because it is an unjust law. It’s a law so rooted in white supremacy, so rooted in this misogynist narrative. It’s all about ideology.
It has nothing to do – and never has had anything to do – with the lives of mothers or children. It’s a question of control. It’s about holding the reins of control, the reins of power over, you know, certain people – mostly women, mostly BIPOC [Black, Indigenous and people of colour] communities.
If you defy the law, what could be the consequences for you?
Well, the consequences are a fine and jail time.
Why are you ready to do this?
I am willing to do this because as a woman who has been in this situation, I refuse to bully white supremacy at its highest, misogyny at its highest. I just refuse.
I’m not going to allow them to take that away from me, and allow them to take that away from other people. So that’s all I’m going to say about it. That’s why I do it, because people need to have access to abortion. Abortion is liberation. It is bodily autonomy, bodily sovereignty.
And at the end of the day, the powers that be, the white patriarchy, don’t want black people and brown people — and especially women and people with vaginas — to have that liberation.
Watch: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reacts to the overthrow of Roe v. Wade in the United States:
You called it a racist law. How does the effect of the law differ between, say, black women in the state and white women [women]?
Because black and brown women, black and brown people, are more likely to be criminalized with this law. And black and brown people already face so many other barriers compared to white women. You know, we already live, exist in health access deserts, food deserts, educational deserts. They do not have access to a primary care doctor, that is to say to preventive medicine.
You have been doing this job for a long time. I wonder how hard it is after all that.
As a black woman and black woman from the South doing this job, I don’t have the luxury of sitting down and having a pity party yet. So it hasn’t really penetrated me yet.
Not only is it sad for us here, it’s a very, very sad and traumatic day for America. This America that claims to be this land of freedom and opportunity and freedom and all that, you know, self-preservation and self-reward and everything, that here we criminalize abortion in 2022, when so many other countries, you know, like Ireland and other countries in Latin America, have repealed their abortion laws as far as the criminalization of abortion is concerned.
Written by Sheena Goodyear. Interview conducted by Chris Harbord. The questions and answers have been edited for length and clarity.