JACKSON, Miss. — It was a Wednesday morning in front of the last abortion clinic in Mississippi. C. Roy McMillan was camped outside, as he almost always is.
He tapped on the car window of a woman who had just been inside the Jackson Women's Health Organization. Knock knock. "Ma'am?" he petitioned sharply, in his croaky Mississippi drawl. The African-American woman declined to acknowledge him. "Ma'am?"
So McMillan, 69 and white, yelled the words he has yelled at thousands of women — words that this self-professed civil rights advocate employs to link the great struggle of his state's past with what he sees as the great struggle of its present:
"Mommy, Mommy — I have a dream!" he shouted, assuming the voice of the woman's unborn child. "Please don't cut my dream short like they did for Dr. King!"
Two days earlier, on April 16, Republican Gov. Phil Bryant had signed a bill imposing regulations on the clinic that the owner said might put her out of business. If the clinic indeed goes under, Mississippi will become the first state to have achieved a de facto ban on elective abortions. Every other private obstetrician here is either morally opposed to the procedure or too scared of people like McMillan to perform it.
Despite the signing, the patients kept coming. So McMillan kept coming as well. McMillan set out signs decorated with photos — one of a healthy baby, another of a dead fetus — and unfolded a chair at the corner of quiet side street where patients turn to reach the clinic parking lot. This was a consultation day. The next day, after the mandated 24-hour waiting period, abortions would be performed.
"This week, they'll kill 50 people," McMillan said.
If McMillan wants to tap on patients' car windows to spread his message, he knows being on that corner is his only choice. A federal judge has permanently barred him from going within 50 feet of the clinic.
According to court documents, the injunction was the result, in part, of McMillan's statements to one of the clinic's former doctors. "Your days are numbered," McMillan told him.
And: "You may die today."
And: "Are you prepared to meet your maker?"
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Mississippi's anti-abortion forces have been among the most effective in the nation, lobbying for laws and creating a climate that helped whittle the number of providers from 14 in 1981, to one today.
State laws mandate parental consent for minors and an ultrasound. They prohibit state tax dollars from funding abortion and school nurses from discussing it. Drivers, for an extra $31, may have a "Choose Life" license plate that benefits anti-abortion counseling clinics.
Now, with the new law, doctors at the clinic must have admitting privileges at a local hospital. Clinic owner Diane Derzis has said that will be difficult because many of her doctors fear harassment and live out of state.
Few have advocated for an end to abortion as long, and with as much intensity, as McMillan. Yet some allies disagree with his tactics. Before the trial of Michael Griffin — the activist convicted of murdering abortion provider Dr. David Gunn in Pensacola in 1993 — McMillan signed a statement calling for Griffin's acquittal. The statement also justified the use of lethal force to protect an unborn child.
Terri Herring, Mississippi's leading anti-abortion lobbyist, credits McMillan with spurring her interest in the abortion fight. She worries, though, that his shock tactics are not representative of mainstream Mississippians.
Roy "is not what we want as a poster child!!" she wrote in an email. "But he has been faithful for years. … Roy is the father of the Mississippi movement. He is either loved or hated, but often misunderstood.
"Did he tell you that he was left as an infant on the doorstep of a church?"
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The National Abortion Foundation, in 2010, documented the violence directed at abortion providers from 1977 through 2009 in the United States and Canada: eight murders, 17 attempted murders, 41 bombings, 175 arsons and 100 attacks with butyric acid. None of this is his style, McMillan says.
His position on killing abortion providers can seem muddled: "I wouldn't condemn someone who did. But I can't condone it."
He added that he could never do such a thing himself. "I'm scared of the repercussions," McMillan said. "I'd much prefer women were talked out of abortion."
He believes he has saved thousands of babies by talking. Some of the children born after his interventions are as close as grandchildren, he says. He's taking a few on a Florida vacation in June.
When he sees a man accompanying a woman to the clinic, he might challenge his masculinity. Be a real man. Save her baby.
Around 9:30 a.m. a woman in a Honda Civic rolled past McMillan.
"Female!" he yelled to the other counselors.
As the woman walked from car to clinic, one chatted her up from the other side of the fence. "Excuse me, ma'am. Are you okay? Ma'am, we want to help you any way we can. Please help us love your baby."