What’s it like to try to get an abortion in Alabama? How has this changed since the overturn of Roe v. Wade on June 24 triggered an abortion ban there?
To find out Liberation News spoke with Jenice Fountain, new Executive Director of Yellowhammer Fund, an abortion fund and reproductive justice organization serving Alabama, Mississippi, and the Deep South.
Fountain works out of Birmingham, a city of 211,000 people, 97% Black, with a poverty rate double the national average. While Birmingham, she pointed out, is “the home of Civil Rights District,” enshrining that key struggle, today the city contains “a lot of people angry with the system and locked out.”
The mother of three, Fountain came to Yellowhammer two years ago from a “right to parent, family justice” background, she said. She chose to work for Yellowhammer because it embraced family justice, she explained, and “offered support around all reproductive decisions, not just abortion.”
Before Roe was overturned they funded up to 350 abortions a month in 2022. “It was hectic,” Fountain said.
“Pre-Dobbs we worked a lot with many people who didn’t know abortion was still legal, and didn’t know they had that choice. We helped them get to appointments for abortions, and we helped with childcare.”
They did more. There were no abortion clinics at all in Birmingham and only three in the whole state. “Alabama required two visits, 24 hours apart in order to have an abortion … We escorted people to Atlanta, where you needed only one visit to get an abortion.”
Atlanta clinics, 147 miles away, were better options “for people who had kids and couldn’t go to a clinic two times … In Alabama the legal limit for an abortion was 14 weeks, which can be hard to meet when your poor, Fountain explained. In Atlanta it was 20 weeks.
Their escorting didn’t stop there. “We escorted people through rightwing demonstrators outside Feminist Women’s Health Center in Atlanta.” The regular anti-abortion protesters even included “a racist who actually burned down an AME church.”
Their support was comprehensive. They also did “the wrap around for people who need the abortion procedure. For people sleeping in their cars that needed abortion, lets figure out why you are in your car.”
They provided emergency contraception, condoms and safe sex information.
Hours after the Supreme Court ended a national right to abortion on June 24, the decision triggered a 2019 law in Alabama that prohibits abortion in almost all circumstances and carries a jail term of 10-99 years for performing an abortion. There are also “aiding and abetting laws,’’ said Fountain.
“Now we can’t give out abortion info, can’t fund, can’t advise, can’t help someone to get one. A lot of clients were in limbo, in the middle of the abortion process” when the Supreme Court ruled.
“We are almost back to square one, and have to re-imagine. We looked for legal advice. We were told. ‘Don’t do anything till someone becomes a test case.’
“Now our phone lines are blowing up.” Yellowhammer currently provides Emergency Contraception free (the morning after pill or Plan B). “We got 7,500 orders for EC right away.” With a small staff, this has been hard to fill.
“We are activists and wanted to get things done. But how far do we want to go? We are getting ready for the backlash.
“We want Yellowhammer to be ready with information about self-managed abortions. But how to get the information out about how to get it when they are waiting to hear the word ‘abortion’ to come after you?”
“Traveling? Even if we find a loophole, traveling to Illinois isn’t an option.” Illinois, over 700 miles away, is currently the closest state allowing one-visit abortion procedures up to 22 weeks.
“People will be parenting who didn’t plan to, or parenting more children than they want to. We’re going to fight back, but know that people will still get hurt and will need help.”
What is Yellowhammer doing right now?
“We are teaching people how to use condoms, to use Plan B; we distribute diapers and baby wipes; we direct people to programs to enroll in if you’re pregnant and help them get cribs.
“We are making sure people without internet and phones have information. We are going to the community and asking them, ‘Do you know how to use EC ?’
Yellowhammer goes to Birmingham’s “Avondale Housing Projects, where we can reach the most people quickly” as there is a high concentration of women and children there. Many people there are “without health care and fending for themselves.”
Crisis Pregnancy Centers
Crisis Pregnancy Centers masquerade as abortion clinic, but they are run by anti-abortion religious groups, and their real goal is to stop you from having an abortion. There are 11 Crisis Pregnancy Centers in Birmingham.
“They fool a lot of people,” Fountain said. “I went to one when was pregnant. On the phone I was very clear about accessing abortion. They told me to come in, then they told me I would regret the abortion.”
The CPCs say they distribute baby clothes and provide other services. “Even if they helped with poverty you have to attend long religious classes to get things you need for a baby you would have terminated. They are places to go if you want to feel shame.”
Black people are surveilled twice as much as white people. “There are more Department of Human Resource cases in the Black community” but, at the same time, “many people are not reaching out to the state for help. They’re afraid of losing their kids,” Fountain said. “On a national basis, 40% of the children removed from their homes are Black.”
“Last year a client smoked weed while pregnant. She was tested for drugs when giving birth without her knowledge.” Based upon the positive drug test “they came and removed her child at six weeks of age.” Yellowhammer hired an attorney and helped her get her child back, “But this is just one case,” Fountain pointed out. What about the others?
“Abortion ban is a pre-cursor to criminalizing pregnancy, especially for Black people but everybody,” she included.
The fight is on. Yellowhammer has no intentions of giving up in the struggle for abortion rights all reproductive rights and basic human rights. They can be reached at https://www.yellowhammerfund.org/