As It Happens·Q&A

She helps Black people in Mississippi get abortions. The U.S. Supreme Court ruling won't stop her

A woman who runs a reproductive rights organization in Mississippi says she will keep helping people access abortion services, despite the U.S. Supreme Court's overturning of Roe. v. Wade.

'I'm going to defy this ruling, defy this law, with everything in my being,' says Michelle Colón

A Black woman in heart-shaped sunglasses and a bandana points her finger in the face of a man who is facing away from the camera. Behind them are people holding signs with American flags, in which the stars are replaced by uteruses. The words "abortion" and "fight" are visible, but the full wording on the signs is obscured.
Michelle Colón, the executive director of SHERo Mississippi, at an abortion rights rally in Jackson, Miss., on June 17. (SHERo Mississippi)

Story Transcript

A woman who runs a reproductive rights organization in Mississippi says she will keep helping people access abortion services, in defiance of the U.S. Supreme Court overturning of Roe. v. Wade.

On Friday, the top U.S. court upheld Mississippi's 15-week abortion ban, and in doing so, overturned the landmark 1973 decision that enshrined abortion as a constitutional right.

The ruling will have an immediate effect on abortion access in the U.S., where at least 13 states have anti-abortion trigger laws designed to kick in with the fall of Roe.

Mississippi has a trigger law that bans all abortions except in cases where there is a criminal charge of rape, or to protect the life of the pregnant person. It will come into effect when the state's attorney general certifies it, likely within days of Friday's ruling.

Under the trigger law, "any person, except the pregnant woman, who purposefully, knowingly or recklessly performs or attempts to perform or induce an abortion" could face between one and 10 years in jail. 

Michelle Colón is the executive director of Sisters Helping Every Woman Rise and Organize (SHERo), an organization that advocates for reproductive rights and helps connect Black and brown people to abortion services. Here is part of her conversation with As It Happens guest host Tom Harrington.

Michelle, as a woman in Mississippi today, how are you feeling?

As a Black woman in Mississippi today, I am not surprised with this decision by SCOTUS [the Supreme Court of the United States]. It is devastating nonetheless.

SCOTUS made it perfectly clear that they do not care about the lives of women and girls and pregnant people, that they do not care about our health care, about our existence, about our lives. They made it perfectly clear with the decision today, and also by upholding white supremacy. So that's how I feel.

You're getting calls from Mississippi women about getting an abortion. What do you tell them?

I tell them that I'm here for them and ... that abortion will no longer be legal here in Mississippi. But there are still other other options. There are still clinics that we can get them to. There's also, you know, self-managed abortion.

Have you had any calls since the decision was ... announced?

The people who I've been talking to and I've been working with, I've been preparing them for this. So folks know how to get in contact with me. And I'm going to tell them the same thing — that this decision, like I said, while it was anticipated, I will defy this decision.

What SCOTUS has done is basically sentenced pregnant people to travel across the country in seeking health care. This is an undue burden on them and also the providers in abortion-safe states.

I'm going to defy this ruling, defy this law, with everything in my being. It is unjust. It is discriminatory. It is misogynistic. It is racist. It's everything. And so I will continue to make that known to anybody who calls me. And I'm going to do anything and everything in helping Mississippians access the abortion health care that they need and deserve.

When you get a call from a woman seeking an abortion, what's their story? Give me an example of the kind of things you hear.

It doesn't matter what their story is. Someone is not prepared to become a parent. Someone is not prepared to give birth and have a child. So I don't care, you know, what their reason is. I don't ask that and I don't demand that of anyone. If they want to tell that to me, fine.

My job and my dedication is helping these people navigate a system, getting them what they need, and getting what they need with the lowest level of stress possible. 

More than half of the country is going to to be impacted by this because now abortion will be criminalized. The other half of the country, i.e., the abortion-safe states or safe-ish states, they're going to be impacted as well, because they're going to have to navigate their existing systems in handling an influx of patients coming from across country for abortion procedures. That's the story.

You've talked about defying the law. How do you do that?

I'm not getting ready to share my plans with you because ... I'd be incriminating myself. The only thing I can say is that I'm going to defy this law because it is an unjust law. This is a law that is so rooted in white supremacy, so rooted in this misogynistic narrative. This is all about ideology. 

This has nothing to do — and has never had anything to do — with the lives of mothers or children. This is about control. This is about maintaining the reins of control, the reins of power over, you know, certain people — mainly women, mainly BIPOC [Black, Indigenous and people of colour] communities.

If you defy the law, what could be the consequences for you?

Well, the consequences is a fine and going to jail.

Why are you prepared to do that?

I'm prepared to do that because as a woman who has been in this situation, I refuse to cow down to white supremacy at its highest, misogyny at its highest. I just refuse. 

I'm not going to allow them to take this away from me, and allow them to take this away from other people. So that's all I'm going to say on that. That's why I'm doing it, because people need to have access to abortion. Abortion is liberation. It is bodily autonomy, bodily sovereignty.

And when it comes down to it,  the powers that be, the white patriarchy, does not want Black and brown people — and especially women and people with vaginas — to have that liberation.

Watch: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reacts to overturning of Roe v. Wade in U.S.:

'Today is a difficult day,' Trudeau says after U.S. court decision overturning Roe v. Wade

2 months ago
Duration 1:23
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau weighs in on the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to overturn decades-old jurisprudence on abortion.

You called it a racist law. How does the effect of the law differ between, say, Black women in the state and white [women]?

Because Black and brown women, Black and brown people, are more subjected to being criminalized with this law. And Black and brown people are already facing so many other obstacles versus white women. You know, we're already living, existing in health access deserts, food deserts, educational deserts. They don't have access to a primary-care physician, which is preventative medicine.

You've been doing this work for a long time. I wonder just how hard a moment this is after all that.

As a Black woman, and a Black woman in the South doing this work, I don't have the luxury to sit back and have a pity party just yet. So it hasn't really sunk into me yet.

Not only is it sad for us here, it's a very, very sad and traumatic day for America. That America who claims to be this country of liberty and opportunity and freedom and all of this, you know, self-preservation and self-rewarding and everything, that here we are criminalizing abortion in 2022, when so many other countries, you know, like Ireland and other countries in Latin America, have repealed their abortion laws in regards to criminalizing abortion. 

Written by Sheena Goodyear. Interview produced by Chris Harbord. Q&A had been edited for length and clarity.

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