Gulf coast women deal with the end of Roe Versus Wade
Clinics that provided abortions in Alabama are dealing with a new reality. So are their patients. Late last month, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Roe versus Wade. Within hours of that decision, a Montgomery federal judge ended an injunction against Alabama’s Human Life Protection Act. The measure makes almost all abortions in the state a felony. An estimated one in four women will have an abortion in their lifetimes. That is now much harder for women in Alabama.
As abortion clinics stopped offering services in Alabama, the end of Roe Versus Wade stirred up emotions and memories for some women along the Gulf coast. Those recollections included handling their own unplanned pregnancies, no matter which choice they made. Reseach by the Brookings Institute says about 45 percent of all pregnancies in the U.S. are unintended. About forty percent of those end in abortion and sixty percent end in live births. For people like Chandra Brown, it leads to tough questions
“Can I be true to the mother that I'm going to be, are questions on both sides that women have had to just kind of grapple with,” said Brown. “If I can't do it, am I less of a woman? And what does that make me? And what does that say about me if this is how society identifies me?”
Brown is executive director of Lifelines Counseling services in Mobile. Her group helps clients navigate through the difficulties of life. Pregnancy is a big one.
“I think what we have right now is we put so much weight and it burdens women in so many ways.” She said. “I've seen them anxious and depressed often with any situation that they choose. If I'm a mother, am I going to be a good one? Is society going to help me? I have yet to find a parent who doesn't want the best possible environment for their child. And do we as a community create that? I think that's the weight that women carry. How do I do it if we choose to be mothers? I think that's what this whole conversation is missing. Those levels of empathy in those spaces of, you know, it's not an easy decision for people.”
From abortion to adoption and keeping the child, the choices following an unplanned pregnancy aren’t easy.
“I grew up in an evangelical family and I've been pro-life most of my life,” said Devin Ford. She’s the founder of Focus. That’s a group that encourages and empowers women on the Gulf Coast.
“I started having my awakening and was already pro-choice by the time I found out I was pregnant in my early twenties,” Ford said. “I was not ready to be a mom emotionally, so I chose to have abortion. I've never regretted it or questioned my decision. I feel deeply grateful that it was my decision to make. I think most of the shame that women feel around having an abortion is always something that people put on them.”
When Devin lived in California, she was never ashamed of having an abortion because women there talked openly about it. That changed when she moved back to Alabama. Tired of keeping it a secret, she recently made a video telling the story of her abortion.
“ Having a support system is good, but think about women who don't have a support system,” said Tejuania Nelson-Gill. She was nineteen, a senior in high school, and a pastor’s daughter when she found out she was pregnant. The weight of the shame was on her shoulders and she got to the point where she didn’t care about anything.
“My grades were dropping and I failed the grad exam. I had to retake that over again. I was missing days and fell into this slump where I did not care anymore,” Nelson-Gill recalled. “I was falling asleep in my classes. One of those was my English class, and I was dead asleep. My English teacher walked over and tapped me on the shoulder. She told me how I wasn't going to be anything and I was a disgrace to my family.”
Embarrassed, those words shook up. Tejuania found her strength and started pulling up her grades.
"I said, I am gonna be somebody because I'm carrying a little girl and I've got to be somebody for this child. I started to turn things around and things have turned around for me ever since. That was 27 years ago,” she said.
With the support of her family, Tejuania graduated from high school two weeks after her daughter was born. Today she is the Executive Director of Lighthouse Academy that provides childcare in Mobile and Baldwin counties. Some of the mothers are in the same situation she was in.
“I see women all the time that don’t have anyone to support them. You have to push them to push themselves,” she said.
“I knew of abortions. And I knew who, how and where. And I knew that was not even a choice for me,” said Joanne Pierce. She was in nursing school when she got pregnant with Sheri, her first child. Joanne was twenty years old, unmarried and also losing her hearing which caused her to drop out of school.
“I was carrying this beautiful secret in my heart. I only gained twelve pounds. I gave birth to her on April the fifteenth. That day I gave her up for adoption, I gave away a piece of my heart. I hurt me, but I thought it was best for her under the circumstances, financial and otherwise,” said Pierce.
Joanne married Sheri’s father two years after Sheri was born. They had four children, and Joanne said each of them had a little piece of Sheri, even though the siblings didn’t know about their sister.
“When I called my children into the house, I'd count heads. I always counted five. In my heart, I always counted Sheri as one, but my children thought I was counting myself. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. I was always counting to five. So that got to be a deal after they met Sheri, now we know why you always counted to five,” Pierce recalled.
Thanks to Sheri’s adoptive parents, Joanne was reunited with her daughter. They talk every day.
“I never told anybody this deep, dark secret in my heart,” said Pierce. “This emptiness, I felt I carried on. I was a good mother and I was a good wife to her father and the father of my children. But I still carried this emptiness, this loss of Sheri in my life. When I was given the gift of reoccurring with her and retouching with her, I felt complete. She tells me I love you, mom. Thank you for being my mom. And thank you for giving me a chance at life. I mean, how much better can you do than that, right?”
As state’s enact new laws and reproductive rights are debated, women are still left with the often unhealed emotions and trauma of unplanned pregnancies.