By Robin Marty – Ms. Marty is the director of operations at the West Alabama Women’s Center and the author of “The New Handbook for a Post-Roe America.”
“In February 2021, I uprooted my husband, three children and two cats from our longtime home to move across the country to a house we had only seen on FaceTime, in a city we only knew from college football. I did this because I believe that everyone who supports abortion rights must do what they’re able to to keep abortion accessible for those who have the least resources to get one.
For me, that meant a move to Alabama.
It was the logical next step in the trajectory my life had been on since January 2019, when I first published “Handbook for a Post-Roe America,” a guide for how to obtain or assist someone in obtaining an abortion — legally or otherwise. The previous summer, Justice Anthony Kennedy, the Supreme Court’s “swing vote,” had announced his retirement. In the months that followed the swearing in of Justice Kennedy’s successor, Justice Brett Kavanaugh, conservative lawmakers who were emboldened by a more conservative court put forward a raft of extreme anti-abortion bills.
In 2019, 12 states passed laws banning all, some or most abortions. That wave of laws included a total ban on abortion in Alabama — since Roe v. Wade, the country’s most far-reaching anti-abortion law enacted up to that point. The law, signed by Gov. Kay Ivey, a Republican, criminalized abortion providers and allowed women access to abortion for lifesaving purposes or in the case of fatal fetal anomaly. Rape and incest were not offered as exceptions. The law was blocked by the courts before it could go into effect, but its intent was clear: It was specifically and intentionally drafted to initiate a challenge to Roe v. Wade.
Between the Alabama law and the shift in the Supreme Court’s ideological makeup, I saw the writing on the wall for American abortion rights. So I gave up my career as a freelance reporter, trading it for work at the Yellowhammer Fund — an Alabama group that helps women pay for and travel to get abortions. About a year later, the Yellowhammer Fund bought the West Alabama Women’s Center, the largest abortion clinic in the state, so it would stay open after the original owner retired. I took a position there.
I don’t regret a moment of my time here in Alabama, and I feel the work I’m doing is making a critical difference in the lives of my clinic’s patients and our greater community. But now, with Roe overturned, I know I need to adapt what my abortion activism will look like, to match it to the needs of this new landscape.
The overturning of Roe is the perfect time for every supporter of abortion rights to examine their own commitment to the cause and to discover how they, too, can meet this moment. I recognize that most people won’t be able to move across the country to help people get abortions — nor, frankly, should they, when there are so many opportunities to help in every community around the country.
Since the draft opinion in Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Healthleaked in early May, longtime activists have seen an awareness of, and an enthusiasm for, the necessity of abortion rights that has not been this robust in decades. The focus now must be on tapping that energy and making it sustainable. Small actions every day may well mitigate the harm that many experts predict will occur for women nationally, but it will take an army of supporters to get this done.
Here are some things that army of people can do:
Spread the word about AidAccess.org, a group based in Austria that can mail the same abortion-inducing medication that we, until recently, provided in our clinic. The site even offers advance provision of abortion pills for anyone who may want to have the medicine on hand before an unwanted pregnancy occurs — for themselves or for someone they know. Just know that in a post-Roe world there could be legal risks to patients who live in states where abortion is banned and who order pills off the internet.
Which brings me to my next suggestion: Direct people who are seeking legal advice to the group If/When/How: Lawyering for Reproductive Justice, which provides a confidential legal help lineand a legal-defense fund to assist people who get tied up in the criminal justice system because of the outcomes of their pregnancies.
People can also make sure others are aware of groups like the Miscarriage and Abortion Hotline, which has text and phone options for asking questions during and after a miscarriage or an abortion.
Abortion rights supporters also should protect family, friends and allies from surveillance with Digital Defense Fund’s online security guidance for phones and computers — especially if you’re doing anything that could be considered pushing legal boundaries.
A few other websites to keep at your fingertips: Reproactionprovides a tool kit for organizing a protest of anti-abortion groups to prove that abortion rights supporters are just as vocal as the opponents. At INeedAnA.com, you can see how close your nearest abortion clinic is, and what the waiting periods and other restrictions are, if faced with an unwanted pregnancy.
With so many systems in place to tap into already, the issue isn’t so much finding a way to help — it’s about maximizing impact. One person calling a local lawmaker 200 times might be considered harassment. But 200 people calling that legislator once is impossible to ignore. Likewise, a single $100 donation does immediate good, but a recurring $10 monthly donation — especially if a friend or 20 will join you — can provide ongoing funding that an organization can rely on. One national march of a million people makes headlines for a time. But small, ongoing actions — sit-ins, vigils, an abortion rights supporter always stationed in front of the state house or courthouse — are tactics that grow more powerful the longer they last.
Thinking local will be key in a post-Roe environment in which more than ever access to abortion is determined by one’s geography. You could ask your City Council to support funding for abortion providers, as Chicago has proposed, or demand that your City Council pass a resolution ensuring that those seeking abortion won’t be criminalized, like the one recently proposed in Austin, Texas.
I believe the work I’m a part of in Alabama is vitally important.Over the last year, we have seen patients not just from Alabama but from Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas as stringent new laws and overbooked appointments have taken a toll on clinics across the South. Even with this new patient load, we were able to register as an Alabama Medicaid provider, allowing us to serve even more low-income patients who need contraception, basic gynecological care and testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections. We’ve created partnerships, including with the Black trans advocacy program the Knights and Orchids Society, to offer H.I.V. care and have created a sliding-scale birth control program. And now that abortion is no longer legal in Alabama, our clinic will remain open to provide aftercare for people who may end up managing their own abortions.
But I also believe that the vast majority of abortion rights supporters do not need to do what I did. With almost half a century of abortion rights dissolving into thin air, it is understandable to want to make a grand gesture in response. But instead, I would recommend taking a breath, assessing your resources and tapping into the work that is already being done in your community. If all of us do the same in our communities across the country, we have a chance to stave off at least some of the worst outcomes of a post-Roe America. That is the work now. Let’s get to it.