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The phone hasn’t stopped ringing at the Feminist Women’s Health Center in Atlanta since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last week, as women from other Southern states already enacting bans seek legal abortion care while they still can.
The center’s executive director, Kwajelyn Jackson, told Atlanta Civic Circle that they’ve expanded abortion services from three-and-a-half days a week to four full days because of the increased need from people in surrounding states.
The demand is far greater, she added but adding more appointments than that would overtax the staff. “I’m not overworking my staff. We want to make sure we have the capacity to treat people safely.”
The center, which is open six days a week, normally sees between 25 and 40 patients a day. There’s already been a greater influx of people from Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee, Jackson said–now that those states have fully banned or are expected to ban abortions within the next month in reaction to the Supreme Court’s June 24 ruling that pregnant people do not have a constitutional right to an abortion.
Since then, 11 states now ban or severely restrict abortions. Georgia and 10 other states have laws pending to do the same.
“Until such time the law changes in Georgia, we’re doing the best we can … to make sure people get the abortion care they need,” Jackson said. “Even if the six-week ban [in Georgia] goes into effect, then our intention will be to provide abortion care under those parameters.”
For many Georgians, the financial obstacles were already prohibitive, even before the Supreme Court decided abortions aren’t protected by a constitutional right to privacy. Many health insurers won’t pay for abortions, which in Georgia can cost anywhere from $600 to $1,800, Jackson said. What’s more, the Affordable Care Act covers some contraceptives, such as condoms and birth control pills, but not IUDs, which can cost thousands of dollars.
The Feminist Women’s Health Care Center’s patients and its providers are mostly Black, in a state with one of the highest maternal death rates for Black women in the nation.
Atlanta Civic Circle spoke with Jackson, who became the 46-year-old center’s first Black director in 2018, about the impact of a post-Roe era in Georgia. The conversation has been edited for clarity and length.
Were you surprised by the ruling?
I wasn’t. We had been expecting this outcome for a very long time. But that does not make the reality any less heartbreaking and devastating. I don’t think anyone can fully anticipate the ramifications that this will have. We are inviting another nationwide health crisis with the stroke of a pen.
If Georgia’s own law goes into effect as expected, what options will people have when they’re beyond six weeks pregnant?
We would encourage people who are not sure of their gestation to come to a clinic to have an ultrasound and confirmation of pregnancy. From that point, we can determine where else there may be services available.
Certainly, the Southeast will be very deeply affected by the ruling. There will be some places that people will still potentially be able to drive to, but I think many places best equipped to support abortion unfettered are several states away, like Washington, D.C. and Illinois.
But if a woman’s already in a financial bind, she doesn’t have money to hop on an airplane and go flying across the country or drive up to D.C.
They’re already struggling to pay for the cost of their abortion care because abortion in many places is prevented from being covered by Medicaid or other insurance plans. People also have to take unpaid time off from work in many cases, and they have to arrange for childcare for their other children. Sometimes they also need to have another person accompany them.
What does the ruling do to women’s reproductive rights and health overall?
This is certainly a devastating blow, but access to abortion care has been a very serious issue for a very long time. Even with Roe in place, people have had a myriad of obstacles in the way of them getting the care that they need–of having full bodily autonomy and full unfettered access to abortion. And this is only going to be exacerbated by the [Supreme Court] decision.
This ruling is going to put people’s lives in danger. It’s going to disproportionately affect Black communities and other communities of color that have already systemically been harmed by racism and the paternalism that exists under white supremacy.
Going forward, what will the landscape look like?
We know that pregnancies are going to be more dangerous because there will be unsafe or unplanned pregnancies that will be forced to continue to term. The potential for criminalizing pregnancy outcomes is also on the horizon. This will be a devastating health care crisis for the entire country.
What does last week’s decision mean for other individual rights? Is it chipping away at our personal freedoms and choices?
This is much more than chipping. What we’ve experienced over the past few decades has been continuously chipping away at our rights and this [Supreme Court decision] is a full-blown dismissal of human rights.
This is a refusal to acknowledge the experiences and needs of people– and of people’s ability to self-determine. This is not acknowledging the expertise and humanity of people in orchestrating their lives in ways they see fit. So I definitely would not characterize this as chipping. This is the whole block.
The decision about when and how and under what circumstances one becomes pregnant, gives birth, and raises children is a significant part of the way that we live in the world. It’s not arbitrary. It’s not small. It’s not insignificant. This is just an indicator of things to come.
It’s been said that Georgia is one of the most dangerous states for a Black woman to be pregnant. What are your thoughts on that?
Pregnancy and birth for Black people have been dangerous in this country for a very long time. When abortion restrictions are in place, maternal outcomes become poor. Overturning Roe [will] make pregnancy more dangerous, because there will be people who are forced to carry a pregnancy to term that is unsafe for them.
The risk of criminalization will also determine many pregnancy outcomes. Providers might deny people life-saving care because of their perceived risk of prosecution under abortion laws.
These factors, in addition to the ways stress contributes to people’s ability to have a safe pregnancy, will affect the way pregnancy looks in this country in the long term. It will affect Black communities the hardest because systemic racism is at the root of all of these kinds of policies that continue to neglect and ignore the things we need to live full and healthy lives.
Many people view this ruling as another challenge to civil rights. Are you willing to go to jail to provide abortion care?
I’m not a physician [providing abortion care], so I don’t know that the risks are exactly the same for me. I’m deeply committed to reproductive justice, and we should not, in some cases, be beholden to unjust laws. At the same time, I don’t wish anybody to go to jail. Jails are inhumane. The carceral system has done nothing but harm to people in this nation. I don’t think we should be martyring ourselves, putting ourselves in harm’s way, to prove a point or to fulfill a mission.
We have organizing tools that we can use. This is certainly not to disparage the way civil rights activists used that strategy. I just don’t know at this point that policymakers will take the jailing [seriously]. We’ve seen them put legislators in jail and not bat an eye. As an intentional strategy, I don’t know that it is useful in trying to get the kind of change we want to see.
In his concurring opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas said now that Roe has been dealt with, the Supreme Court should use future cases to reconsider its key rulings on due process, including Griswold, Lawrence, and Obergefell, which make contraception, same-sex sexual relations, and same-sex marriage legal. Thoughts?
It’s not surprising at all. This is a clear agenda to uphold and prop up white supremacist power in this country. The ability to control people’s decision-making about their bodies, their relationships, their families, and the way that they exist and thrive in the world are ways to maintain the power that has been hoarded amongst a few. It’s a way to keep people as tools in capitalism as opposed to living people whose humanity is being honored and held sacred.
To even say we should be beholden to the original drafters of the Constitution who considered Black people as three-fifths of a person and did not consider women at all–as the standard we should be looking to in 2022 and beyond–really shows their hand.
Will this have a lasting effect?
It will be hugely devastating over the next five to 10 years. But I do not think that’s the end of the story. I really do believe in the power of people on the ground, and people who have been dreaming of new systems, and new ways. Ultimately, the Constitution and the government structures as they exist today cannot continue to persist if we’re going to actually care for all people.