Mississippi only has one abortion clinic and, like most things in the state that might positively affect the rights of women, it’s not exactly well funded. The Jackson Women’s Health Organization opened its doors on February 8, 1995 and has had the same funky coral pink interior design scheme ever since. Our new clinic director and long time feminist activist, Nancy Kohsin-Kintigh, decided it needed a face lift, so a small crew of volunteers signed up to help.
When I showed up Sunday morning, I expected to get right back to work, painting the surgical hallway where I’d left off the night before. Instead, I found Nancy terribly upset, having just heard about the sudden murder of her very good friend and coworker Dr. George Tiller. He was shot, point blank, in his church. Nancy said he’d just come back from a week at Disneyworld with his family.
There was no time to be sad. The volunteers divided into two groups. Nancy, MS NOW president Jenni Smith, and others quickly set the ball rolling on a press conference with local media while myself and some fantastic volunteers and members from Starkville NOW got back to painting, knowing the clinic had to be open for business the next morning. Meanwhile, we all waited for the national media to pick up the story.
Before the press conference, Nancy gathered all of us in the waiting room to tell us about her friend. Dr. Tiller ran one of the three clinics that performed late term abortions in the country. Patients came from, quite literally, all over the world. He primarily helped women whose lives were in danger, women whose pregnancies had developed extreme physical or genetic complications, and very young rape/incest victims (whose pregnancies are often not detected until later). He had been shot twice, his clinic had been burned and bombed, and anti-choice extremists had done everything they could to make his life difficult.
Dr. Tiller was often asked why he didn’t just give up. He said he would be working as long as women needed him. Nancy called him a “total feminist.” She said once, when the anti’s had surrounded his clinic, he had his staff hang a huge banner across the building: “Women need abortions. I’m going to do them. -Dr. Tiller”
That is what a feminist looks like. That is why we are a pro-choice movement and will continue to fight for the control of our bodies that is legally ours - abortion: on demand, without apology.
Thirty or so paint streaked volunteers gathered behind Nancy, Jenni, Shawna (reproductive freedom coordinator of the ACLU of MS) and Todd as they told the news cameras what had happened. They told about how it is also unsafe for our doctor here and how we’re having to ask for federal marshals. Again.
We got the painting done that night. The walls are a nice tan with rust colored trim and carefully placed accent walls. That weird coral wallpaper is all gone. The waiting room has been pleasantly rearranged and the purple plant Kellum put on the receptionist desk ties it all together quite well. As Mississippi women walk with the guards, past the harassment at the gates, and through the metal detector at the front door, hopefully they’ll find it a bit more comfortable. Women need abortions, and we’re going to make sure they can access them.