Abortion

Abortion

Susan Hill and I were having lunch at the Mayflower Hotel years ago when she informed me that she was opening up another abortion clinic, this time in Jackson, Mississippi.  I looked at her incredulously and asked her why?    “Because the women down there need a good facility” she answered.

I had known Susan for many years by that time.  She was a vivacious, articulate woman who could sweet talk anyone to get what she wanted.  She’d also rip your lungs out if you crossed her.  At that time, she ran seven abortion clinics in cities like Jacksonville, Raleigh and Fort Wayne.  She also owned what had to be the most famous abortion clinic in the country, the Fargo Women’s Health Organization – the only clinic in the state.  Because it was all by itself in that conservative part of the country, it was the target of incredibly intents anti-abortion activity.  Protests with thousands of people, fire bombings, constant death threats.  Their doctors had bodyguards and were smuggled into Fargo in the back seats of cars.  The clinic was featured on the cover of the New York Times Magazine.

Abortion

Abortion

And Susan loved all of the attention it got.  It was her political statement against those who sought to make North Dakota an “abortion free state.”

At that time in Mississippi, there were two other abortion clinics that left much to be desired.  “The women deserve better and I’m gonna build the Taj Majal right there in Jackson,” Susan told me.  She was anxious to go into the belly of the beast and build a state of the art abortion facility in that backward state.   Over the next year or two, she spent a lot of time flying back and forth to Jackson.  I can still visualize her walking the streets in her skin tight dresses, usually a black ensemble that offset her outrageously blond hair.  When she walked into a room at the Ritz in Manhattan, she attracted attention.  I could only imagine the ruckus she caused in redneck country.

Susan ultimately built her clinic, which I was fortunate enough to visit on two occasions.  It was a jewel, albeit an eyesore to the anti-abortion zealots who now had a new target.  And they camped out front for years thereafter.   But the clinic survived and served thousands and thousands of women.

A few years ago, Susan Hill died of breast cancer.  I think of her often.  And I could not help thinking about her again just a few days ago when I read that the Jackson Women’s Health Organization was on the verge of closing.  It seems that the Health Department has announced that it would revoke the clinic’s operating license after an inspection found that it is has not complied with a state law that requires that all abortion doctors to maintain local hospital privileges.  Closure of the clinic may take up to six weeks until a hearing can be held and a formal revocation can take place.

But I also heard that the clinic staff was fighting hard to keep the only clinic in Mississippi open.  They are apparently grasping onto any straw and fighting at every turn to assure that women in that state have access to good reproductive health services.

They may or may not ultimately prevail.  But their courageous efforts deserve much applause.  I know Susan is rooting them on right now.