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A counselor at Mississippi's only abortion clinic shares her story

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Time now for StoryCorps. Seventy-four-year-old Betty Thompson is known as Miss Betty at the only remaining clinic that performs abortions in Mississippi. It's the same clinic at the center of the pending Supreme Court case that could overturn Roe vs. Wade. Thompson started working there as a counselor soon after it opened in the mid-'90s. She came to StoryCorps to talk about her experience.

BETTY THOMPSON: 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 OK, 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 tried to reach that teenager to let them know that it's going to be OK. 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.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

FADEL: That's Miss Betty Thompson at StoryCorps. This interview will be archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.