A New Front Line in Mississippi’s Fight for Reproductive Justice

Activists are paving the way for an abortion-friendly future for Mississippi—a state marked by persistent challenges in the fight for reproductive justice. The Pink House Fund, named for the last abortion clinic standing in Mississippi, will provide financial support for African American women studying healthcare who plan to return to the state to provide abortions.

“We’ve always been on the chopping block here in Mississippi,” Pink House clinic defender Michelle Colon told Ms. “We are the first ones to fight back in court and the clinic is always threatened to be closed by the governor. We need to start to think about the future of abortion providers.”

The Pink House is the Jackson Women’s Health Organization (JWHO)’s nonprofit branch, housed in an infamously bright building. Providers there perform abortions for patients who drive hours to obtain the procedure, often from nearby states; defenders like Colon escort patients past aggressive anti-choice protestors, who have a near constant presence outside, and sustain Pink House campaigns to smash abortion stigma like the new scholarship fund.

The work that Pink House staff and volunteers provide is pivotal—not just locally, but as part of the broader push back against restrictive abortion laws and attitudes. The clinic has received international media coverage for withstanding some of the most restrictive anti-choice legislation in the U.S., and the defenders’ dedication motivates and helps advance movements around the world. Activists from London, Dublin and South America have sent notes of support and donations to the clinic—which partly prompted the creation of the scholarship fund.

“There is a very strong group of dedicated volunteers who come out and provide defense for our patients,” Colon explained to Ms. “Support is growing with media coverage that we’ve gotten as Pink House defenders. We’re working to be open and demystify abortion—and people are coming out more.”

The Pink House scholarship is named after Mississippi’s first African American woman physician Helen Barnes, who is also JWHO co-founder. Barnes returned to the Mississippi Delta after attending medical school to provide healthcare to low-income patients and then taught as professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Mississippi Medical Center for over 30 years. Pink House defenders hope more Mississippians follow in her footsteps.

“What can we do to be more proactive but to bring a person from here back to pay homage to the dedication and commitment of Dr. Barnes who is a champion for Mississippi women?” Colon asked. “Those of us here at the Pink House have never been afraid to say we’re proud of our clinic. It’s time to start thinking of what we can do to combat this anti-[abortion] movement.”

JWHO has long formed a front line in the fight for reproductive justice in Mississippi. Just this month, the organization expanded a lawsuit against the state to include challenges to dozens of onerous restrictions, at least one of which is similar to the Texas law struck down in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt in 2016, which set a precedent dictating that undue burdens cannot be inflicted on people attempting to obtain abortion care. The Pink House is also planning a pro-choice billboard campaign alongside fundraising efforts that support both the scholarship fund and a fund for low-income patients’ healthcare costs.

Activists in Mississippi have the experience needed to push these types of campaigns forward—and it’s increasingly critical for them to do so. As Colon noted to Ms.: “This is the time for our movement to think a little bit outside of the box.”




Michele Sleighel is a former Research Assistant at the Feminist Majority Foundation. She has an MA in Communication at the University of Texas in San Antonio and a BS in PR from the University of Texas in Austin and is very proud of her El Paso roots. Find her on Twitter @MicheleSleighel