How Alabama Women Are Fighting Back Against the Country’s Most Oppressive Abortion Law
Above the doors of the Alabama Statehouse, where late Tuesday the senate approved H.B. 314, the most extreme abortion ban in the country, is a plaster scroll embossed with the state’s Latin motto: Audemus Jura Nostra Defendere.
“The phrase,” explains Amanda Reyes, president of the Yellowhammer Fund, means “We Dare Defend Our Rights.” And that is precisely what Reyes and her co-founders at Yellowhammer, an Alabama-based nonprofit that provides funding for women who need abortions, intend to do in the face of the boldest assault on reproductive rights in 46 years, a bill that outlaws abortion outright, with no exceptions for rape or incest, and would enforce harsh criminal penalties for abortion providers.
The state’s conservative governor, Kay Ivey, noted as she signed the bill into law on Wednesday that it is nearly identical to one that has been on the books in Alabama for more than 100 years. That law, like this new one, is unenforceable, and has been since 1973, when the Supreme Court ruled in Roe v. Wade that the right to an abortion was protected by the Constitution.
H.B. 314’s illegality is the point. “The sponsors of this bill believe that it is time, once again, for the U.S. Supreme Court to revisit this important matter, and they believe this act may bring about the best opportunity for this to occur,” Ivey said in a statement Wednesday.
Unlike the state of Alabama, the women who live there do not have the luxury of flouting the law, which is why the Yellowhammer Fund has spent the past 48 hours furiously fundraising to help support those women in the event that the law does go into effect. That’s still a big if.
“The ban, the way it’s written, will not go into effect for six months after the governor’s signature,” Reyes says. In that time, she and others expect the ACLU or another legal advocate will sue to stop it — a case that should be clear-cut by any standard, but the outcome is uncertain given the increasingly conservative judiciary. “But if it does take effect, we’re going to use the network that we already have in our own state and in our region, with our sister funds in the National Network of Abortion Funds and other individual advocates and activists that we work with, to [help women from Alabama] get care where it’s legal.”
Reyes and her co-founders started the Yellowhammer Fund after Donald Trump’s election in 2016 precisely because they saw efforts like H.B. 314 coming. Then, as now, the parking lot of the West Alabama Women’s Center in Tuscaloosa, where Reyes and her co-founders volunteer as clinic escorts, was full of cars from the surrounding states. It is one of just three abortion-providing facilities left in the state, down from nine in 2014, and from more than 20 in the 1990s, but Alabama was still the best option for many women in the region. “You’ll see plates from Louisiana, from Arkansas, from Texas, from Mississippi, from Georgia, from Tennessee,” Reyes recalls. “Because of the number of clinics that we do have in comparison to other states, and the difficulties that people have getting into the clinics in their states.”
If H.B. 314 goes into effect, women will be forced to travel even further for abortion care, which will make it expensive. Leaving the state will be the only option for most women, Reyes explains. Mail-order medical abortions, which became available in the U.S. last year, are verboten in the state. “It is illegal in two different ways: Alabama has what are called chemical endangerment laws… [and] people can also be charged with, essentially, practicing medicine on themselves without a license.”
The threat of arrest, Reyes says, is very real. “Alabama is too dangerous of a state and too much of an aggressively prosecutorial state for us to risk the criminalization of someone who tries to self-manage their abortion,” she says. “The people who are most likely to do that are going to be the people that we already serve: the people who tend to be the most desperate in these kinds of situations. They are black and poor and usually rural, and these are the kinds of people who are aggressively targeted by police all across the country, but [especially] in the South, with the remnants of Jim Crow and segregation.”
Over the past two years, as legislators in the state have become emboldened, so have the protesters. “Since the 2016 election, the anti-abortion activists that come out to our clinic have become increasingly more aggressive,” Reyes says. “It is more aggressive now than it ever has been.” The week before the state Senate passed H.B. 314, one of the protesters struck a clinic escort with his car. (The escort, who does not appear to have been seriously injured, was taken to urgent care. Lt. Teena Richardson of the Tuscaloosa police department told Rolling Stone the driver was being investigated for leaving the scene of an accident, but refused to provide further details.)
Reyes said Thursday that she did not have fundraising figures immediately available, but the outpouring of support Yellowhammer received since H.B. 314 passed — including prominent plugs by 2020 candidates Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Sen. Kamala Harris — meant the group would be “funding a lot of abortions” in the future.
“We’re very determined,” Reyes says. “We dare to defend our right to abortion access, and we will spend all of the money that we can to make sure that people in Alabama can get safe and legal abortion access, in spite of our state government.”
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