50 years since Roe secured abortion rights, women across the US are left in the dust

Peoples Dispatch spoke to Jenice Fountain of the Yellowhammer Fund about the impact of Dobbs on those in the Deep South

January 23, 2023 by Natalia Marques
Jenice Fountain speaking at a panel at the Peoples Summit for Democracy, June 2022 (Photo Oliver Kornblihtt/Midia Ninja)

January 22, 2023 marks the 50th anniversary of the historic Roe v. Wade decision, which secured abortion rights for women in the US at the federal level. For almost 50 years, this decision prevented states with conservative legislators from barring millions of women across the country from accessing abortion rights—until the Supreme Court shocked the nation by overturning Roe on June 24, 2022.

This means that on the 50th anniversary of Roe, which in many ways was the culmination of decades of feminist organizing, women in conservative-controlled states once again are left without abortion access.

Peoples Dispatch spoke to Jenice Fountain, Executive Director of Yellowhammer Fund, a reproductive justice organization which aims to meet the reproductive healthcare needs of those in the Deep South. Fountain is based in Alabama, which has one of the strictest abortion bans. The law went into effect the same day that Roe was overturned and does not provide exceptions for rape or incest.

Jenice Fountain was initially drawn to abortion access work as a young person, who herself chose to stay in college rather than become a parent at an early age. She became Executive Director of the Yellowhammer Fund shortly after the overturn of Roe.

The Yellowhammer Fund’s work had to rapidly shift focus as abortion access went from difficult to completely illegal in Alabama. Fountain told Peoples Dispatch that the Fund had to coordinate, “supporting people if they end up getting criminalized for their pregnancy, because that was something we were already working through, and navigating DHR (Department of Human Resources), CPS (Child Protective Services) state systems because even if you’re not terminating, or self-terminating [a pregnancy], [Alabama authorities] could just say you are, because miscarriages happen.”

Criminalization of pregnancy and arresting women for miscarriages has already happened multiple times in the US, such as the case of Alabama woman Brooke Shoemaker, who was arrested two months after a stillbirth. In 2020, Shoemaker was sentenced to 18 years in prison.

The Yellowhammer Fund also makes sure to care for those who do, for whatever reason, follow through with a pregnancy. “We still have a program, where you can call us for diapers, wipes, cribs, if you get tangled up in DHR.

“And we’re expanding to a legal fund this year in case people try to self-manage, or go across state lines and get caught, so they have legal representation.

“We have a [legal] team, and we’re in Alabama, so there’s very few people that take on that type of work. But we do have a team that does [abortion cases] on retainer.”

However, much of the Fund’s work had to cease completely after the overturn of Roe. “Before the abortion ban, we were doing like 150 abortion clients a week,” Fountain told Peoples Dispatch. “And so that was immediately cut off. Even outside of that, we had an abundance of calls, thousands of calls, around abortions and helping people schedule appointments. We were paying for transportation, child care, everything you needed to go to your appointments. We did clinic escorts.”

“If you needed to get an abortion, every facet of it that could trip you up, we would pay for it, because we know the struggle for abortion access doesn’t end at paying for a procedure, it doesn’t end at us taking you to the clinic either.

“And so it changed in that we didn’t do any of it anymore.”

But Yellowhammer Fund is changing up their strategy this year in regards to the abortion ban, Fountain said. The presence of the Alabama abortion ban does not change the fact that women in the Deep South still need abortions. “We’re completely changing that this year and saying hey, we have a First Amendment right for a reason, and this is how you can get what you need. 

“And then also, I think we’re also going to push the envelope on what funding might look like, maybe we need to move to a different state, like maybe we need to set up shop somewhere else.

“I think [our work has] changed in that we stopped funding [abortions]. But…these things have to happen. It’s not something that’s a small thing, it’s a death threat for some folks.”

An intentional attack

Race and class play a central role in abortion access, Fountain describes.

“People that are privileged still have access to everything they need, even if they’re in Alabama, if you have money, you’re still going to fly out wherever you need to go. You’re still gonna get your procedure or whatever.

“But when we’re talking about lower income people that haven’t been outside of Alabama, which are often people of color, then the conversation changes.

“Let’s talk about disabled people that can’t get up and go across state lines. Let’s talk about undocumented folks that don’t have the documentation to go across state lines and get procedures. Let’s talk about queer and trans folks that have really stigmatized services…

“I don’t think it is enough to say this disproportionately affects these groups of people. If you’re not going to actively do your work in a way that says, okay, we know this is how this works…

“And then were also in a state that didn’t even expand Medicaid, but spent 900 million on a new prison. We have the worst food insecurity, the worst maternal and infant mortality and morbidity rates—it’s almost a joke. It’s a joke that’s not funny.

Fountain places the blame on those in power for Alabama’s poor health outcomes. “[Some] give legislators this gift of ignorance. It’s not ignorance. It’s a very intentional attack on people. The state is absolutely trying to kill off and imprison its lower income folks.”

It’s not as simple as voting

Fountain also responded to those who might write off Alabama and the Deep South for having voted in conservative, anti-abortion politicians in the first place. To Fountain, it isn’t that simple.

“It’s really gaslighting, if I’m being honest, to tell people in Alabama that they should have just voted, when we’re in the deepest of red states and we have some of the worst gerrymandering in the country.

“And so everything’s been done to put roadblocks in the way of voting, and people should not have to constantly engage or constantly jump over these obstacles to have regular autonomy, that shouldn’t even be the case.”

Alabama, like many majority-Black states in the South, has decades, if not centuries of history in voting rights activism. And just like in the era of Jim Crow apartheid, Alabama voters face cumbersome voting requirements, voter intimidation, and voting restrictions for currently and formerly incarcerated people, who are disproportionately people of color.

“So what are we going to do for folks?” said Fountain. “Are we just going to say, well, we know you need services in health care, but you didn’t vote?”

Fake abortion clinics

Currently, there are no operating abortion clinics in Alabama. But even directly before Roe was overturned, there were only three abortion clinics in the entire state. However, Crisis Pregnancy Centers (CPCs), or anti-abortion centers that pose as abortion clinics, luring desperate women who seek abortions and try to manipulate them out of the procedure, are in abundance across the South and around the country.

“What people don’t realize about [CPCs] is they very intentionally try to position themselves as choice clinics. The one in Birmingham is called Her Choice, which would imply that they’re or helping you throughout the choice [of deciding whether or not to have an abortion]. I actually was a victim of that myself because I thought choice meant choices—it does not. 

“They let me know that I would regret having an abortion. But when I called and I asked, do you do abortion support? They won’t tell you no. They’ll say, oh, come in, it’s not a conversation we have over the phone, whatever. And then by the time you get there, they’re like, oh, God doesn’t like this, you’ll regret this decision…

“So I think, for one, especially if you are heading to a deadline to be able to get a procedure, it’s really damaging, and [CPCs] know it, for them to stall you out for weeks, thinking that they might assist you in abortion care and then you can’t. And now you have to go even farther out to get the care that you need.”

Many states have now adopted abortion bans that only kick in after a given number of weeks of pregnancy, making abortion harder to access the longer a patient waits.

CPCs also do not provide adequate assistance once a mother does choose to carry a child to term, says Fountain.

“[CPCs] still have all of those roadblocks, where you can’t just come and say, I need diapers because I’m having a baby, because you have to enroll in their programs, and you’ve gotta pray with them, and you have to give your left foot and your right eye to even get any amount of resources. And then they’re going to shame you for being in the position in the first place.

“You have to take courses to get any assistance. People are working…I think the biggest thing, obviously, is that they position themselves as somewhere where you might be able to get abortion help. And that’s literally not the case. And they have every roadblock possible to get any amount of other resources either.”

While CPCs often offer medical tests such as STD tests or pregnancy tests, because they are not legitimate medical clinics, they are not bound by medical privacy laws and can share patient medical information. Fountain highlighted that this is especially a concern when it concerns state authorities.

“They will report you if they think you might not come back, or that you’re poor or that you might terminate, they’re going to report you. They feel, I guess, that it’s their Christian duty to make sure that you’re not carrying out bodily autonomy.”

A lukewarm response

On the eve of the 50th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, Fountain reflected on the state of the abortion movement, and if it would be possible to reverse the Dobbs decision that overturned Roe, and what that would take.

“I really don’t see it being reversed unless there’s a huge reckoning with, first of all, the lukewarm response…of our administration to this.”

When Roe was overturned, many demanded that Biden make abortion legal on federal facilities, or that Congress, which at the time was controlled by Democrats in both houses, abolish the filibuster that was standing in the way of abortion rights being codified into law. Democrats and the Biden administration did no such thing. However, when rail workers threatened a massive strike due to poor working conditions, Congress acted quickly and decisively to crush the strike. Bipartisan legislation moved quickly through both houses to ensure that a potential rail strike would be illegal.

“There’s got to be a collective thing that, hey, we’re actually not going to deal with this sh-t,” said Fountain. “We’ve tried the voting. We’ve tried the appealing to our legislators. It’s gotta look a little different, I don’t know what that revolution looks like, but when people collectively decide that, no, that doesn’t work, I think you can have a shift.”

The Yellowhammer Fund is accepting donations to support reproductive justice in Alabama.