Mississippi becomes face of American Democracy

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Protestor simultaneously holds up the American flag and a sign in support of reproductive justice at the Abortion Freedom Fighters rally in Jackson days before Roe vs. Wade was overturned. (Advocate photo by Joshua Martin)

As the United States of America turns 245 years old this July 4, Mississippi – the 20th state to join the Union – stands to influence American Democracy as it is known.

On June 24, 2022, the Supreme Court of the United States handed down its final decision in the case of Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. Six out of nine justices sided with Mississippi’s State Health Officer, Thomas Dobbs, over the only state licensed abortion clinic in the state about the legality of a 15-week pregnancy abortion ban. This action was not only the catalyst for Mississippi’s abortion trigger bans (including a 6-week heartbeat law) but it overturned the landmark case, Roe v. Wade, which granted national protection in terms of the right to choose for tens of millions of women across the nation.

On June 28, 2022, Congressman Bennie Thompson, of Mississippi’s 2nd district, held the sixth January 6 hearing as the committee’s chairman. The committee was formed in July 2021 to investigate the January 6, 2021 right-winged attack on the U.S. Capitol. Congressman Thompson is leading the charge in changing public perception of what happened on January 6 and finding out how culpable former president Donald Trump was in the insurrection. 

Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health Organization

Located in the heart of the state’s capital city of Jackson, Jackson Women’s Health Organization is commonly known as “the pink house” and the last standing abortion clinic in the state. In 2018, representatives of the Mississippi Legislature introduced House Bill No. 1510 into session as a general bill/constitutional amendment, and it was passed in March of that year by a majority vote of 75-45 along party lines in the House and 38-14 in the Senate, also along party lines. 

The Mississippi’s Gestational Age Act provides that “[e]xcept in a medical emergency or in the case of a severe fetal abnormality, a person shall not intentionally or knowingly perform . . . or induce an abortion of an unborn human being if the probable gestational age of the unborn human being has been determined to be greater than fifteen (15) weeks.” 

Although JWHO only performs abortions up to 16 weeks, they filed a lawsuit against the state, and U.S. District Court Judge Carlton Reeves sided with the clinic in November 2018, stating that fetus viability begins between the 23-24 week mark. The case was appealed in the Fifth Circuit Court in December 2019, and Judge Reeves decision was upheld on the basis of the definition of viability and the right for a woman to choose before the stage of viability stated in Roe vs. Wade

In between the time of these two cases, Senate Bill 2116 (the 6-week heartbeat bill) was passed in March 2019. Judge Reeves issued an injunction against the bill and that was upheld in the 5th Circuit Court. In both injunctions, lack of viability of the fetus at the 6-week mark was stated as the reason to prohibit this law. 

The state, led by Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch, then appealed to the Supreme Court in June 2020, just four months before Justice Amy Coney Barrett would become the 6th conservative justice on the SCOTUS. In this petition, the state challenged the standard and definition of viability that had been set forth by Roe v. Wade, essentially setting the stage for the 1973 landmark case to be overturned. 

January 6, 2021 Insurrection

President Joe Biden won the November 2020 presidential election against Donald Trump in an unprecedentedly long and controversial vote count process. There were multiple tactics by Trump and the Republican party to undermine the election and its results. Trump is widely known for his tyrannical Twitter tactics, dating back to before former president Barack Obama was elected to office. 

Almost a month after the election, on Nov. 27, Trump tweeted, “​​Biden can only enter the White House as President if he can prove that his ridiculous ‘80,000,000 votes’ were not fraudulently or illegally obtained. When you see what happened in Detroit, Atlanta, Philadelphia & Milwaukee, massive voter fraud, he’s got a big unsolvable problem!”

Leading up to Congress’ joint session to certify the electoral college votes on Jan. 6, 2021, Trump’s accusations of voter fraud and a rigged election continued into the new year, accompanied by numerous lawsuits in the key swing states, which were won widely by predominantly Black voting districts. This “Stop the Steal” campaign brought out numerous far-right, conservative, and white supremacist groups, including the Proud Boys, Boogaloo Boys, and QAnon, among others. 

On Jan. 6, a “Save America” rally, that was galvanized by Trump, started at the Ellipse in Washington, D.C. and ended at the Capitol with Congress members fleeing and hiding for their lives, death, and destruction on a physical level and a democratic one. 

How These Critical Issues Affect Democracy 

In his opening statement, Congressman Thompson noted, “The Constitution doesn’t protect just Democrats or just Republicans. “It protects all of us: ‘We the People.’…Our democracy remains in danger…Jan. 6 and the lies that led to insurrection have put two and a half centuries of constitutional democracy at risk. The world is watching what we do here. America has long been expected to be a shining city on a hill. A beacon of hope and freedom. A model for others – when we’re at our best.

“How can we play that role when our own house is in such disorder? We must confront the truth with candor, resolve and determination. We need to show that we are worthy of the gifts that are the birthright of every American.”

As the country moves closer to the 2022 midterm elections, the overturning of Roe v. Wade and the January 6 hearings will be pivotal in how the pendulum swings from left to right, blue to red. Furthermore, these two landmark moments in history indubitably highlight the impact of the Trump administration and the effects of white supremacy. The consequences and repercussions of these two critical events fall on the backs of the marginalized people of this country, namely Black people. 

Waikinya Clanton, director of the Mississippi office of the Southern Poverty Law Center, expressed, “So many Mississippians experience overwhelming inequity daily, especially when it comes to matters of their physical and financial health. At the Southern Poverty Law Center, we want to emphasize that abortion and access to safe, quality care is just as much of an economic issue for men as it is for women.”

Tyler Harden, the Mississippi state director of Planned Parenthood Southeast, states, “To understand America, you must first understand a place like Mississippi. We aren’t surprised that Roe falling started here. For far too long, we’ve seen our state lead the way as our nation continues to uphold racism and patriarchy to the detriment of Black communities.

“Mississippi is the Blackest state in the country, and most Black people in America are concentrated in Southern states, most of all having abortion bans. Barriers to healthcare, including abortion access, have always existed for Black people and people of color who are able to get pregnant. This is largely due to the barriers our state governments have created through policymaking and their rhetoric and is rooted in a desire for control – not care.”

Harden continues, “Abortion bans are just another example of state-sanctioned racism. The Southern states where Black and Latinx people live are also places where Medicaid hasn’t been expanded and voting restrictions are being tightened yearly to discourage people from voting. Half of the country will lose access to abortion. For Deep South states like Mississippi, there is no safe haven. However, we know how to take care of ourselves. Community is a value that is deeply ingrained into Black, Southern culture. We know that abortion stigma plays an astounding role in our day-to-day lives and emboldens anti-abortion lawmakers. It’s important that we continue to share our stories, have conversations, and create space for true connection through values.”

Next Steps

In a surprise Jan. 6 hearing on June 28, Cassidy Hutchinson, the White House aide for Trump’s chief of staff Mark Meadows, relayed that her boss told her four days before that “things might get real, real bad on Jan. 6.” Trump knew that the protestors were armed and alerted the Secret Service to “take the f-ing mags away” in reference to the devices that screen for weapons at the Capitol. Trump also wanted to join the protestors, even going so far as to take hold of the steering wheel of his vehicle, the “Beast”. 

The upcoming hearings are set for July, although given the urgency of the last hearing, the date and number of hearings is subject to change. These hearings are supposed to cover domestic extremism and Trump’s actions in the White House (which have already somewhat been expounded upon in the last hearing). The committee plans on subpoenaing more high profile witnesses, including a possibility of former vice president Mike Pence being interviewed. 

Jackson Women’s Health Organization filed a lawsuit on June 28, 2022 in the Hinds County Chancery Court, citing that “the Mississippi Constitution protects a right to abortion” as indicated in the 1998 ruling of Pro-Choice Miss. v. Fordice. The Mississippi Supreme Court ruled that “[n]o right is held more sacred . . . than the right of every individual to the possession and control of his own person,” and “no aspect[] of life is more personal and private than those having to do with one’s [own] reproductive system,” and ruled that “the state constitutional right to privacy includes an implied right to choose whether or not to have an abortion.” 

In the Complaint For Declaratory & Injunctive Relief filed in court, the JWHO is primarily bringing the “suit for declaratory judgment and injunctive relief prohibiting the enforcement of two Mississippi abortion bans: namely, Miss. Code Ann. § 41-41-45 (the ‘Trigger Ban’) and Miss. Code Ann. § 41-41-34.1 (the ‘6-Week Ban’)” and not the 15-week ban that was used in the U.S. Supreme Court case. 

All four Hinds County Chancery Court judges – Senior Chancellor Denise Owens, J. Dewayne Thomas, Crystal Wise Martin and Tiffany Grove – have recused themselves from the lawsuit. They have requested that the Mississippi Supreme Court appoint a special judge in the case.

DeAnna Tisdale Johnson has stepped into the role of publisher of her family legacy, the Jackson Advocate. Since March 2020, she has led the publication to once again become an award-winning newspaper with a new logo and website to boot. She is a Jackson native, graduating from Murrah High School and Tougaloo College. She is also classically trained in vocal performance, and, though she’s never broken a glass, she’s known to still hit a high note or two.

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Mississippi becomes face of American Democracy

By DeAnna Tisdale Johnson
July 2, 2022