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Mississippi Is Ground Zero for Abortion Debate in the U.S.

Mississippi is at the epicenter of the American debate over abortion rights. 
The state's 2018 law, which bans almost all abortions in the state after 15 weeks of pregnancy, could be the one to show whether a strong conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court will uphold or overturn Roe v. Wade — the pivotal 1973 court decision granting the right to abortion across the country. 
"It's always been a battle here," said Derenda Hancock, co-founder of Pink House Defenders, which provides services that include escorting women into Mississippi's only abortion clinic. 
"This is not only the most depressed state in the nation. It's the poorest state in the nation. We have a 19.6 percent poverty rate, and you know, where better to test everything out than in a state that can't fight back," she said.
For now, though, abortion is legal in Mississippi. There is only one clinic serving this state of nearly three million people and 48,000 square miles. Jackson Women's Health clinic performs about 2,500 abortions per year. 
If Roe v. Wade is overturned, this clinic will have to close its doors.
The clinic attracts protestors on a daily basis who try to persuade patients to turn around and reconsider their procedures. It has become a de facto symbol of the abortion debate here.
"I think that there is a need for education and people understanding that we're not against women," said Laura Lane, president of the Mississippi College Students for Life. "We just genuinely love them and we want to support them."
Mississippi is a state with trigger laws in place. Trigger laws are exactly what they sound like — laws that are triggered by another action, in this case, Roe v. Wade being struck down by the highest court. If that happened, abortion would immediately become illegal in Mississippi. 
Mississippi is the center of a wave of trigger laws and pre-Roe abortion bans across Southern states that would stop abortion from Florida to New Mexico, creating an abortion desert that covers thousands of square miles and affects millions of people. 
"It's already an abortion desert," Hancock said. "If you add Tennessee, all the states surrounding us, there are, I believe, 12 abortion clinics. There are 14 in Detroit. So think about that. When all these few are gone, we have nothing."
These Southern states are also some of the most diverse in the country. Mississippi's population is 38 percent Black. In Texas, 40 percent of people identify as Hispanic or Latino. This means these potential bans in particular will disproportionately affect women of color. Pro-abortion rights advocates argue it will also hurt people with fewer resources.
Hancock and her group are acutely aware of that reality.
"We have people who live in the Delta, which is the poorest area in Mississippi, who have to drive two hours to get here," she said. "I've seen people not be able to come back for their second visit because you just don't have the money. They just can't afford it."
On the other side of the debate, anti-abortion rights groups hope to educate women about options other than terminating a pregnancy, causing some to accuse them of being "pro-birth" rather than "pro-life." 
That is something people like Omarr Peters, southern regional coordinator for Students for Life America, are quick to correct. 
"We're going around making our city abortion-free by telling women, 'You don't have to go to the abortion facility,'" Peters said. "There are free life-affirming resources that can help you up until your child is 2 years old. 
"We can refer you to adoption agencies. We can help out with bills. We can help get you back into school. So honestly being pro-life is anti-abortion, but that does not stop there. It is from the womb to the tomb," he said.
But the "If, then…" method of banning abortion is by design. As states have become more and more conservative, the desire to find ways to ban abortion that will stand the court test of Roe is the goal. And it's possible that the anti-abortion rights movement may have finally found the case that will do just that. 
"If we are the pro-life generation," Peters said. "We are the generation that can abolish abortion in our lifetime."
Check out more of our Abortion in America series: 
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