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Last Updated: Sunday, 12 March 2006, 16:37 GMT
Abortion battle lines drawn in Mississippi
By Daniela Relph
BBC News, Jackson, Mississippi

Politicians in the US state of Mississippi are pushing forward with plans to ban abortion. The anti-abortion movement says it feels the climate is right for change. In Mississippi 4000 abortions are performed every year in the state's one remaining clinic.

Mississippi lawmakers hope their legislation could reach the US Supreme Court
The Jackson Women's Health Organisation is an anonymous enough building in the heart of strip mall America. Anonymous save for the permanent protest outside.

Arriving here is an intimidating, even shocking, experience. Anti-abortion campaigners hold up enormous and gruesome pictures of aborted foetuses. They stop every car going into the car park and try to persuade those inside to wind down their windows and take their literature.

The women going into this clinic for an abortion are screamed at. One protester, a man, yells "Don't go to those demons, don't let them take your money, don't let them kill your baby". When I ask him why he is being so aggressive, he tells me it's because America needs to know the truth: "Abortion is murder," he says.


Susan Seale is a regular outside the clinic. She's been campaigning against terminations for 23 years. Her conversation is peppered with unrepeatable and vivid descriptions of what happens during a termination. "It's the only way to make people understand," she says.

Roe is the worst kind of law - I believe we can do better
Alan Nunnelee, Mississippi state senator

Here, it seems, the anti-abortion lobby feels increasingly energised.

Staff and patients inside see it differently. They say they feel under siege. The clinics windows are tinted, the blinds firmly shut and a security guard hovers at the door. Despite the harrowing nature of their arrival, the waiting room is full of young women.

Most appear to be under 25, virtually all are African American, and all sit in silence and stare at the TV in the corner of the room.

This is now the only clinic left in Mississippi where a woman can get an abortion. It costs up to $400, but staff fear the service they offer will soon be a thing of the past.

Constitutional rights

Betty Thompson, the clinic's former director, has become its chief campaigner, fighting to keep it open. "This is a vital facility - to close it would remove an important part of women's healthcare - the women of this state need it," she says.

Pro-choice and anti-abortion campaigners at a demonstration in South Dakota where most abortions have been banned
Alongside her sits Dr Joseph Booker, who performs many of the abortions here. He explains that he now takes extra measures to protect his own security. But he won't tell me what measures. "I am concerned about my own safety but I won't let it cripple my life. To close this clinic and ban abortion would in my view violate all women's constitutional rights."

Just a few miles down the road, but a world away from the clinic, is the grandeur of the State Capitol Building. Today members of the Mississippi Symphony Orchestra are performing. Music echoes across the marble filled chamber. It is here that the real battle lines over abortion in Mississippi are being drawn.

Lawmakers have already drafted a bill to ban abortion, except in cases of rape, incest, and risk to the mother's life. I am here to see Alan Nunnelee, the larger-than-life figure spearheading the drive to ban abortion in Mississippi.

Mr Nunnelee is a state senator and he is in no hurry. He wants to get this legislation right. Why? Because the senator believes, if good enough, it could reach the US Supreme Court. He hopes this legislation will persuade the Court to overturn Roe v Wade - the ruling that enshrines a woman's right to an abortion.

New legislation

"Roe is the worst kind of law," he says. "I believe we can do better". He has enormous support, the momentum, it seems, is with him.

In conjunction with the new bill the anti-abortion movement now has 25 clinics up and running across the Mississippi offering counselling to women who are considering an abortion. They are given guidance on the options available to them - adoption, parenting or termination.

But the director of one clinic, Barbara Beevors, says that abortion remains for her an unacceptable choice. "If that's what a women chooses, I see it as a personal failure. I feel I have failed her, and most importantly I have failed her child," she says.

In Mississippi abortion is an increasingly hostile debate. Over the next few weeks the wording and the timing of the bill will be discussed by politicians and lawmakers. They insist they are not jumping on any bandwagon. They say they see this as a chance to improve the rights of women and children by making this state abortion free. America looks on and waits.

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