Women on the front lines: Amanda Reyes

Amanda Reyes is president of the Yellowhammer Fund based in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. The Yellowhammer Fund helps women and people seeking an abortion and helps broaden access to abortion and reduce financial barriers. 

BTC: How did you come to be involved in the abortion rights movement? Why did you found the Yellow Hammer Fund? 

Amanda: My mother took me to my first gynecologist, who was a huge feminist. It was my first appointment, and you know that if your parent goes with you how different it can be. So she let her talk for a while and then she led my mom out and closed the door and said,  “Okay, now tell me all the real answers.” It made me really comfortable talking about my body and my sexuality in a way that I wasn’t comfortable talking about with my parents. She made it safe for me to learn about my body and what kind of birth control was right for me. It was fantastic.

Then, I had another experience about four years later that was the complete opposite. I was an undergrad at the University of Alabama and an out-of-state student. I went to the student health care center because I wanted an IUD. My partner and I were intimate, and I had a lot of goals but I knew – I don’t want children. I wanted it to be a part of my life. I could focus on education rather than worrying about my birth control and if I was pregnant or not. I did research on IUDs, so I could ask for exactly what I wanted.

I went to the nurse who told me, first off, that I would need to go to the university medical center because the student health center could not do that procedure. Secondly, I would have to convince the OB/GYN over there that I needed it. He did not like giving young women IUDs. 

But she coached me on what to focus on like mentioning we were getting married and that I wanted to finish my education before having children. She said they don’t want to give them out because IUDs don’t protect against STIs and STDs, which is understandable. But the only reason she was helping me was because I was in a monogamous relationship even though we weren’t planning to get married at the time. We eventually did, but that didn’t matter.

I got my referral and went. [The doctor] refused to give me an IUD and eventually lied after interrogating me. At the end of five hours where he would come in and out to interrogate me, a nurse said my insurance would not cover the amount and wouldn’t be able to do the procedure today. 

I urged her to go back and check because my dad wrote my insurance policy. I knew how much it would cover, and I had saved for this myself. Both my boyfriend and I had agreed to save while working part-time jobs. It was $150 at the time to get an IUD. I was eating peanut butter out of a jar so I could save coins at work for this IUD. So I knew it was bullshit and told them to check again. 

She left and came back 20 minutes later saying, “The doctor has left for the day. He’s not going to do it.” He had just left. It was the worst experience in my life – the most dis-empowering experience I had ever had. I was left sitting there in the doctor’s office, traumatized.

It was very dis-empowering to be told no, after all of these things I had done. The trial of access to medical care, doing research, saving money, and doing all the things you need to do and be told, “I don’t believe you should get the care that you need so I’m not gonna give it to you.” It was awful. It was like he had control over my body and what he felt about my body and what my body should be doing overruled what I wanted. And that’s really what matters.

And that’s how I got into abortion work. … And there are all these gatekeepers who think they know better than you about what you should be doing about your body. After that, I was scared of doctors for years. It was super violent. There was no other option for me either. I could not go anywhere else to get this IUD. 

Also, my mom was a teen mom when I was born. I was born and raised in the South. It was a rural area, and it would have taken over an hour to drive to a clinic to have an abortion. She had the money, she had the means but she made a choice – to have me. 

And because she had me, she got kicked out of her house as a 17 year old and moved to a nearby city. There she worked jobs while she finished high school and while she was pregnant with me. I feel both of these options are valid because it was a decision my mom made about her body and her pregnancy. But she was punished, which always happens to women and other minorities when they make autonomous decisions about their bodies. That’s not right; that’s not just.

So all these experiences connected my interest to reproductive rights and why I started doing clinic escort work. I founded a student group called Alabama Alliance for Sexual and Reproductive Justice. 

BTC: How does the struggle for abortion rights in Alabama differ from other states? What are some of the difficulties you face organizing in a state that has a reputation for being heavily pro-life?

Amanda: I don’t see it as being very different than anywhere else in the United States. The experience I have had in trying to do this work here resonates with a lot of people who aren’t even in the South. Obviously it’s easier in some places like California that have Medicaid access for abortions than other places. They don’t have all these insane laws going through all the time. I think it is equally difficult in all these places for the same reasons. 

Democrats don’t want to talk about abortion – not even the “left.” Whether they be Democrats or “progressives.” They’re scared of it because there’s this idea in the South and other places that most people are anti-abortion, which is untrue. You just have to talk to people about abortion to really get into how they feel about it.

The most difficult thing about this work and organizing around it is that Democrats and others on the left don’t want to talk about abortions for a variety of reasons. They don’t realize how important abortion rights and access are. 

More importantly, they don’t understand how that is critical to all the other things that we talk about on the left. How it’s connected to the personal and economic health of how we measure the wellbeing of ourselves. Abortions contribute to the health of our families and the lives that we want. Yet they refuse to see that because they don’t want to engage the rhetoric around abortion.

What is difficult is abortion stigma. It is still heavily stigmatized among the left. A legislator in Alabama, someone in the House of Representatives, introduced an abortion ban. A total ban. In a committee, we had in response, an African-American woman – a legislator – said, “We don’t have abortions in my community. Black women don’t have abortions.” Which is a flat out lie. 

She opposed the ban in the committee. But she said all these stigmatizing and untrue statements about abortions and people in her community having abortions because we don’t talk about it. It is stigmatized. Our legislators don’t have a good idea about how people in their district need them. How they want them and actively have them.

Another part of the struggle around abortion they don’t talk about is preserving access. They talk about preserving Roe v. Wade, but abortions don’t matter if people can’t access them. Abortion can be legal all day long, but if an abortion costs $15,000 very few people are going to be able to get it. The average cost of an abortion in Alabama is $100, and most people can’t afford that. There are all these studies done about how much the average American has in their savings, which is always under $1,000. 

They frequently also talk about abortion in ways that is eugenic and anti-poor. [The Democrats] characterize people who have abortions as people who are responsible and not having too many children for their own income. … There are also problems that come from the Democrats and the left from refusing to engage, so the only people talking about abortion are the conservatives who are opposed to it. They are the only people who talk about abortion in any detail policy-wise. 

We have conceded the terms of engagement on abortion to them. Talking about abortions as a tragedy saying, “Nobody wants to be in this position, but we have to do it,” contributes to abortion stigma. They feel they have to kowtow to these conservatives.

It is also a problem of calling abortion a women’s issue. From our own data, we found that 63 percent of people who get an abortion were parents. This is an issue about parenting. It is also a decision about education. It is also a child issue, about how to take care of children. Then the conversation steers into how we can reduce abortion. Not ban it, reduce it. With more Sex Ed, more access to birth control. 

Those things are great, but people are going to get pregnant and people are going to need abortions. So Democrats speaking in terms like this increase the stigma around abortions. There are people who are fertile for over 30 years and others for whom contraceptives do not work at all. Even if you use contraception perfectly, there is still at least a chance of getting pregnant. There is no absolute solution except abortion. 

Last year, there were five people who got pregnant while on an IUD. It is supposedly the most effective method of contraception and people still get pregnant. Contraception is not perfect. We need what we need. 

BTC: What are the dangers women face if anti-abortion forces succeed in rolling back access and overturning Roe v. Wade?

Amanda: A lot of people are going to die. Not just from having illegal abortions that aren’t safe, but in childbirth. They are going to die as a result of being pregnant. Childbirth is dangerous in the U.S., especially in southern states. 

People are going to die, and those people are going to be poor. They’re going to be mothers, they’re going to be children, and we’re going to have to learn to reckon with that on a big scale. People are going to be more impoverished. People are going to have less time with their children. 

The quality of childcare is going to go down. Potentially, not because people don’t love their children but because raising children is work – labor – and someone has to do it. It’s not just the parents who have to do the work: it’s old people, queer people, grandparents, and women. People who are already marginalized are going to suffer the most from this.

BTC: What does building women’s power and or the struggle for women’s liberation mean to you? 

Amanda: Making sure that people have the power they need to get the resources they need to live lives that are safe and meaningful to them. Making sure people get the resources they need to live the kind of lives that they want. It’s a place where there is no power over anyone. Where power is dissolved. Where we don’t have to depend on gatekeepers for access to food, housing, and health care. Where there is autonomy. Abortion will be free, abortion won’t be tied to a medical profession, and abortion will just be accessible. It will be safe, it will be free, and it will be accessible.

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