If you live in Jackson, you’ve probably driven by the Pink House, Mississippi’s only abortion clinic right in the heart of Fondren. You may have noticed the increase in protesters who have taken to flooding the sidewalks with bullhorns and disturbing signs, yelling “Murderer” at young women trying to enter the clinic for health care. It is not a coincidence that anti-abortion protesters have stepped-up their efforts in recent years. Since the installation of our current President, the arena of acceptable behavior has changed. Civility is no longer valued. There are screaming matches between the protesters and the Pinkhouse Defenders, the men and women who tirelessly volunteer to ensure that patients can actually access the clinic. Women are harassed until they dissolve into tears. There have been instances of physical violence. The police are summoned frequently. You may be wondering how this is even legal. After November 1, some of it isn’t.
The business leaders of Fondren have had enough. Patrons of eateries like Rooster’s and Green Ghost have not been enjoying the spectacle. The owners of the soon-to-be opened hotel adjacent to the clinic are also worried about their business. They took these concerns to Jackson City Council. On October 1, the Council passed an ordinance prohibiting certain activities in front of health care facilities, including the Pink House. The restrictions include a buffer zone preventing activists from coming within 8 feet of a patient within a 100 ft. radius of the clinic, or within 15 feet of the clinic itself. Loud speakers will also be prohibited within 100 feet.
The antis maintained that these restrictions would limit their freedom of speech. Though a constitutional right, there are limits to free speech. Free speech ends where the rights of others begin. Patients who come to the Pink House for medical care have the right to safety, and the antis have done everything in their power to create an atmosphere of hostility and fear. This is counterproductive to their mission, which is ostensibly to change the minds of young women seeking abortions. Instead they harm women through bullying and physical intimidation. Harming others is not protected speech, and holding the constitution in one hand and a bible in the other doesn’t make it so. It’s ugly. It’s illegal. And it stops here.
As a humanist, I value both freedom of speech and a woman’s right to choose. Driving by the Pink House, witnessing the melee surrounding what should be a quiet medical practice, I realize these ideals are not in conflict. Had the antis chosen a different approach, one that came from both an honest difference of opinion and love of humanity, this ordinance would not have been necessary. Instead, they chose to turn Fondren into a Bully Pulpit, one that keeps medical students awake in nearby apartments, threatens local businesses, and treats women as objects to be manipulated for their own personal glory.
I believe this ordinance, which takes effect in 30 days, is here to stay. Similar ordinances have been deemed constitutional in higher courts, and have garnered widespread public support. There has already been some backlash from antis who are calling for boycotts of surrounding businesses. So go out and show your support by dining at a restaurant nearby. While you’re there, give a shout out to the Pinkhouse Defenders. Hopefully soon they’ll be enjoying some well-earned peace and quiet.