Black History 365: Betty Thompson
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“We Are Needed”: A Counselor At Mississippi’s Only Abortion Clinic Shares Her Story
In the mid-1990s, Miss Betty Thompson retired from her job in state government, and started a second career working at the Jackson Women’s Health Organization as a counselor. By 2004, it was the only remaining abortion clinic in Mississippi.
Often faced with incredibly long distances to travel, and protesters on the ground upon their arrival, Betty helped all those who walked through the doors.
In 2022, the clinic would become the center of the pending U.S. Supreme Court case challenging Roe v. Wade.
Betty worked there at the clinic for almost 25 years, but it was her own experiences as a teenager that brought her to the work.
In 2016, she came to StoryCorps to share her story.
Kamilah Kashanie: 74-year-old Betty Thompson…is known as “Miss Betty” at the Jackson Women’s Health Organization, where she worked for almost twenty-five years.
In 2004, it became the only remaining abortion clinic in Mississippi…and in 2022 it centered in the Supreme Court case aimed at overturning Roe v. Wade.
She started working there as a counselor, soon after it opened in the mid-90s…
…and she came to StoryCorps to talk about what led her there…
Betty Thompson (BT): When I was 16, I didn’t tell my parents that I was pregnant. They told me.
At that moment, my mom started to cry and said, ‘Girl, you’re pregnant’. My mouth flew open. I was devastated.
You know, there are times when you want the floor to swallow you up. Well, that was so past embarrassing and nothing was swallowing me up.
And then she sat me down in that chair to comb my hair, which she never combed my hair. She couldn’t say it was okay, but a touch can mean so much sometimes. And I think she forgave me at that moment she touched me.
I kept my son, but my mom was the main caregiver. And so because of my family, I went back to finish high school and went to college.
It made me want to excel in a lot of things. However, I wish I had had the choice.
After 25 years, I retired from state government. And I happened to run into a friend that knew that this clinic was being opened. I suppose because of my background, I felt like I had something to give. So I jumped right in.
You know, everybody can’t do this work. You have to be made for it. You have to love people.
So, I try to reach that teenager to let them know that it’s going to be okay. And I make sure I encourage the mom or the dad that’s with that teenager, you’re going to get through this – you love your daughter. She needs you now more than ever.
Sometimes I can see the mother look over at the daughter. Almost as if for the first time. It takes me back to that moment when my mom was doing my hair.
We know that we are the only clinic in Mississippi and we are needed. And that’s why I’m here.