The Current

As U.S. Supreme Court considers abortion case, one Mississippi woman shares how the procedure saved her life

The U.S. Supreme Court is considering whether to uphold a Mississippi law that would ban abortion after 15 weeks, even in cases of rape or incest.

Court considering Mississippi law that bans abortion after 15 weeks

Abortion rights advocates and anti-abortion protesters demonstrate in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday. (Andrew Harnik/The Associated Press)

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A few weeks after Mississippi native Amy Nobles had her second child in 2013, she says she was raped by her then husband, and ended up back in hospital.

"[I was] told that my gallbladder was at risk of rupturing, but they could not do any sort of surgery because I had become pregnant again," she told The Current's Matt Galloway.

Nobles took her children and moved into a battered women's shelter, where she received counselling. She spent three months in the shelter, living with the risk of her gallbladder rupturing, while she tried to care for her two children. 

"In that time, I realized I had to make a difficult decision, and that decision was to have an abortion," she said.

"So I called up the Jackson Women's Health Organization, the last standing abortion clinic in Mississippi, and made an appointment."

A few weeks after the procedure, Nobles said she was rushed to hospital to have her gallbladder removed. 

She believes that without the health care provided by the Jackson Women's Health Organization, that surgery could not have happened, and she would have died. 

The clinic is currently embroiled in a legal case before the U.S. Supreme Court. A new state law in Mississippi bars abortion after 15 weeks, with no exception for rape or incest. The clinic wants to keep offering the procedure until the 16th week, as it has in the past. 

The Court, which is currently a 6-3 conservative majority, must decide whether to uphold the Mississippi law, in a decision that experts say could have wider implications for access to abortion across the entire country

Hearing about the case, Nobles wanted people to know what she's been through. 

WATCH | Protesters face off as U.S. Supreme Court considers Mississippi abortion law

Protesters face off as U.S. Supreme Court considers Mississippi abortion law

2 months ago
Duration 2:32
Pro-choice and anti-abortion advocates faced off outside the U.S. Supreme Court as the justices heard arguments over whether to overturn a restrictive Mississippi abortion law that could challenge the Roe vs. Wade decision that legalized abortion. 2:32

At the women's shelter, she was given legal representation, and secured a divorce and no-contact order against her former husband. She said she reported the abuse to police during the relationship, but told The Current she was always too afraid to press charges or relive the trauma in a court room, even after she escaped.

Those years have left her living with a disability, but through therapy she feels that she has gone "from a victim to a survivor."

She has published an open letter to the Supreme Court, and posted videos about her experience online.

"I have a daughter of my own, she's eight now, and I feel that it's important to tell my story," she said.

"And I know that there are women and pregnant folks, not only in my state, but all over the country that experience the same situations that I went through."

Mississippi's only abortion clinic

At the Jackson Women's Health Organization, clinic director Shannon Brewer says she's happy to hear the clinic made a difference in Nobles' life, and she appreciates her speaking up.

But Brewer said the case before the Supreme Court could limit any help the clinic can offer. 

Shannon Brewer, clinic director of the Jackson Women's Health Organization, sits in her office in May this year. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

The court is being asked to revisit the 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey decision, which reaffirmed 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that viability, at around 24 weeks of a pregnancy, was the earliest point at which states could ban abortion.

Mississippi is arguing that viability is an arbitrary standard, and that states should have more say in regulating abortion services. The state introduced the 15-week limit in 2018.

The Jackson Women's Health Organization does not offer abortion services beyond the 16th week, but Brewer said they're fighting the one-week reduction because every day matters.

"Any day that you take from any one woman as far as making her decision, I think that's a big deal," she said.

The Supreme Court's eventual decision could remove a woman's constitutional right to an abortion into the sixth month; or at least partly reverse some of what was established in Roe v. Wade.

It's not going to stop abortion; it's just going to stop legal abortion.- Shannon Brewer

Brewer said that would amount to "telling [women] what they can and can't do with their own bodies."

She said the majority of their patients are lower-income and racialized, without the resources to travel across state lines for more choice in health-care services.

"You have these women who are already struggling to make ends meet now … you want them to have more children, and not give them the option of what to do, which puts them in a worse situation," she said.

Any curb on abortion access would just result in women "being rushed to the hospital for doing drastic things," as well as unwanted infants being dropped off at hospitals, she said.

"It's not going to stop abortion; it's just going to stop legal abortion," she said.

A Supreme Court decision is expected by June, when the current session ends.

The Jackson Women's Health Organization is Mississippi's only abortion clinic. (Rory Doyle/Reuters)

Move would be 'contrary' to global trend

Despite the court's conservative majority, a decision that limits abortion rights would still be a shock, said Alejandra Cardenas, senior director for global legal strategies at the Center For Reproductive Rights.

"The U.S. has been, to some extent, an example on respecting women's autonomy and reproductive health," she said.

It would also be "completely contrary to a world that is acknowledging the need for protecting and respecting reproductive health and rights," she added.

The Associated Press reported that since 2000, 29 countries had changed their abortion laws, expanding the legal grounds on which women can access abortion services in all but one case. The findings come from a 2019 report from the Council of Foreign Relations.

Brewer said she's not confident in what the result will be, but until June, her clinic will keep supporting women.

"We'll continue to see patients, we continue to have discussions on the what if this happens, what if that happens, and we'll try to make arrangements and prepare for the what ifs in the meantime," she said.

Written by Padraig Moran, with files from The Associated Press and Alex Panetta. Produced by Ines Colabrese, Niza Lyapa Nondo and Ben Jamieson.

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