Two years after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned federal protections for abortion access under Roe v. Wade, writer and director Ruth Leitman is screening her film in Jackson, Miss., about a group of abortion rights activists who traveled the U.S. to support abortion clinics and destigmatize abortion.

“(There’s) no more important place to show it than Jackson, Miss., because Jackson, Miss., is Ground Zero for what happened, really, in the rest of the country (regarding abortion),” she told the Crirec on June 18. She calls the film, which is set to screen in Jackson on Monday, June 24, “unapologetically pro-abortion.”

“No One Asked You” follows comedian Lizz Winstead, co-creator of “The Daily Show,” and activists from her group Abortion Access Front from 2016 to 2022 as the conversation around abortion heightened between the 2016 presidential election and the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2022 Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision that overturned Roe v. Wade. Some of Winstead’s stand-up comedy routines from the “Vagical Mystery Tour” and “Abortion AF: the Tour” are integrated into the film.

Winstead got an abortion at age 15 and has spent much of her life advocating for abortion access through comedy routines modeled after current events. In the film, she reflects on the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision and appears at multiple protests following the fall of Roe.

“It was so easy to bulldoze abortion rights because people don’t know how to defend abortion rights,” Winstead says in the movie in remarks filmed on July 17, 2022.

Pink House Defenders Combat Anti-Abortion Protestors

Lizz Winstead’s comedy tour traveled to 16 states in the South and Midwest, many of which were battleground abortion states, “No One Asked You” writer and director Ruth Leitman said. During the tour, Leitman would film Winstead and the Abortion Access Front team visiting abortion clinics at each stop—including the Jackson Women’s Health Organization, more commonly known as the Pink House.

“I thought that it would be really important to tell the story of the barrage of what was happening with abortion access both at the state level and the national level because things are getting chipped away,” Leitman told the Crirec on June 18.

Scenes show the Pink House Defenders like Derenda Hancock escorting patients into the clinic as anti-abortion protestors haggle them while holding signs depicting mutated fetuses and Bible verses.

“Nowadays, there’s very few of the ‘pro-life’ people that are out at clinics,” Hancock told the Crirec on June 19. “There are some, but mostly people who are at clinics these days, the antis, all call themselves abolitionists because they don’t only believe in getting rid of abortion. They believe that women should be prosecuted for having an abortion, just like (what they describe as) ‘any other murderer.’”

The “No One Asked You” crew filmed some of the anti-abortion protestors with their signs that depict mutilated fetuses (blurred) alongside Bible verses. Photo courtesy Ruth Leitman

Hancock met Winstead in 2015 when the comedian visited the Pink House and met Ruth Leitman in 2017 when she was filming the Vagical Mystery Tour in Mississippi. Hancock became a subject in the film, sharing her perspective as a Pink House Defender.

Hancock is a co-founder of We Engage, an organization that aims to end abortion stigma and restore bodily autonomy through abortion access. She called We Engage the “mini version” of Winstead’s Abortion Access Front.

Leitman filmed the anti-abortion protestors harassing the patients while the Pink House Defenders protected them from harm. Hancock recalled the Pink House Defenders playing rock music on portable radios to block out the protestors’ shouting. Anywhere from five to 40 protestors would stand outside of the Pink House while two to four Pink House Defenders escorted patients into the clinic.

“The perseverance that they had was something like I had never seen before,” Leitman said of the Pink House Defenders. “... You had people volunteering at the Pink House that really had to maneuver their day jobs around their volunteer work.”

Mississippi Laws Tried to Limit Abortion

Abortion was never easily available in Mississippi, even before the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, as “No One Asked You” recounts. Abortion was illegal in the state until 1966 when the Mississippi Legislature added an exception for rape in the law; the Legislature added an exception for incest in 1972. The U.S. Supreme Court’s original decision in Roe v. Wade in 1973 made abortion legal in all states, including Mississippi.

Many scenes in the film feature the Jackson Women’s Health Organization, better known as the Pink House. Pictured is a still from the film where Pink House Defender leader Derenda Hancock (left) and volunteer Kim Gibson (right) stand next to anti-abortion protestor Coleman Boyd outside of the Pink House in Jackson, Miss. Photo courtesy Ruth Leitman

In 2018, Gov. Phil Bryant signed a bill into law that banned abortion 15 weeks after a woman’s last menstrual cycle “except in a medical emergency or in the case of a severe fetal abnormality.” That bill was authored by the Alliance Defending Freedom, an Arizona-based right-wing Christian legal organization that planned and successfully used it to challenge Roe v. Wade.

Several times throughout the years, including in 2018, legislators had unsuccessfully introduced bills that would ban abortion as early as six weeks, often called “heartbeat bills.”

“No One Asked You” shows State Reps. Dan Eubanks and Steve Hopkins, who co-authored the 2018 six-week abortion ban. Hopkins called the bill the “highlight of our legislative career so far.” Eubanks and Hopkins visited the Pink House after the House and Senate passed a six-week abortion ban in 2019. The Pink House Defenders accused the representatives of controlling women’s bodies, while the representatives declared that they “valued life.”

“Back then, we thought, ‘This is ridiculous. Pretty soon it’s going to be the one-week ban.’ We weren’t taking it as seriously as we probably should’ve,” Derenda Hancock said, recalling conversations she had with others who supported abortion rights.

The Fall of Roe v. Wade

On June 24, 2022, the U.S. Supreme Court released its ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, overturning Roe v. Wade. Hancock was at the Pink House for a regular shift. She remembers hearing the ever-present protestors cry out, “Hallelujah” as they heard the news while the Pink House Defenders put on brave faces and continued helping patients into the clinic.

The defenders soon learned that the clinic would have to close for good within weeks but Hancock said protestors immediately posted signs outside the Pink House that said, “This Clinic is Closed” to deter patients from getting abortions. The defenders, in turn, made signs alerting patients that the clinic was still open. Meanwhile, she said dozens of journalists from “everywhere”—including Mississippi, the U.S. and even Switzerland—swarmed the clinic to report on its impending closure.

Normally, about two to four defenders would work outside the Pink House each day, but in the days after Roe, Hancock said their numbers jumped to 12 to 14 volunteers working in shifts.

“It was completely a zoo for the next 10 days,” she recalled.

“No One Asked You” writer and director Ruth Leitman calls her film “unapologetically pro-abortion.” Photo courtesy Ruth Leitman

Abortion in Mississippi became illegal in most cases on July 7, 2022, after Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch filed paperwork that brought a 2007 “trigger law” into effect that lawmakers had designed to become effective if Roe v. Wade was overturned.

“No One Asked You” shows the emotional goodbye the Pink House Defenders said as the clinic closed its doors on July 7, 2022.

“When we had to disband, it was very disheartening for everyone,” Hancock said of the Pink House Defenders.

Looking back after two years without abortion access in Mississippi, Hancock lamented that no state in the country is safe from potential abortion bans.

“It’s like a virus,” Hancock said of the anti-abortion laws. “It’s traveling from state to state and it’s eventually going to hit Illinois and New York and the so-called ‘safe states’ because there are no safe states. And it’s depressing. All I know to do is tell people to please donate to abortion funds.”

“No One Asked You” is screening at Duling Hall in Jackson, Miss., on June 24 at 7 p.m. Tickets are free with an option to make a donation.

“I think it’s a really good way to memorialize the date but also take the conversation forward in a way that demands our rights back,” Ruth Leitman said.

Reporter Heather Harrison graduated from Mississippi State University with a degree in Communication in 2023. She worked at The Reflector student newspaper for three years, starting as a staff writer, then the news editor before becoming the editor-in-chief. During her time at The Reflector, Heather won 13 awards for her multi-media journalism work.

In her free time, Heather likes to walk her dog, Finley, read books, and listen to Taylor Swift. Heather lives in Starkville, where she has spent the past four years. She is a Hazlehurst, Mississippi, native.