Black women forced to choose between abortion and rent in post-Dobbs America

Jenice Fountain has seen women forced to make seemingly impossible choices.

“I’ve noticed people using the last of their last to get out of state,” Fountain tells theGrio. “And if they’re not, they’re just like, well, I have to birth now.”

As a reproductive justice advocate based in Alabama, Fountain has a front row to America in the era of post-Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, in which two years ago, the Supreme Court struck down the right to an abortion. Despite being legal since Roe v. Wade in 1973, abortion care is banned or severely restricted in nearly half of the country’s 50 states.

Alabama is one of 14 states that has enacted total abortion bans, forcing people in one of the nation’s poorest states to travel for the procedure and sometimes choose between covering essential needs and their future.

“On a community level, I’m hearing people say, well, yeah, I got care. But I went to Georgia first, and then I went to Ohio. And so now my rent isn’t paid, and I don’t know where I’m gonna live,” said Fountain. “If my client’s homeless now because they had to go get an abortion, I don’t really see that as a win.”

As the executive director of the Yellowhammer Fund, Fountain works to provide financial support and resources to communities for reproductive justice. Reproductive justice is a framework developed by Black women activists in the 1990s that focuses not just on procedures, like terminating a pregnancy, but more broadly supporting their right to have children or not have children in safe and healthy environments.

But ever since Roe v. Wade was overturned two years ago, Fountain has seen the fundamental idea of reproductive justice be challenged in tangible ways, particularly for marginalized groups. Alabama’s Black population surpasses the national average, with Black people making up one-fourth of the entire state (more than 25%). Fountain said in a state that once sparked the civil rights movement with the Birmingham bus boycott and faced a history of brutally racist attacks and violence, there is a sense of despair that has led many women to feel that when faced with an unintended pregnancy, they have no choice but to move forward.

“I’m seeing people saying, well, we’re in Alabama. We’re used to another added layer of oppression, so we’re just gonna birth now. Where can I birth safely? Where can I get resources for that?” Fountain shared.

Fountain says the work of this era is not just about funding abortions but thinking holistically about supporting people, especially marginalized groups, who find themselves in the crosshairs of state institutions once they give birth and struggle to make ends meet.

Abortion rights activists rallied outside the U.S. Supreme Court on April 15, 2024, in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Probal Rashid/LightRocket via Getty Images)

“We had to create a legal fund because most of the legal funds that we were able to connect with wanted to support people if they’re criminalized for getting [an abortion] out of state,” she said. “But we’re saying, ‘Hey, they need legal support because the Department of Human Resources is involved now for this pregnancy they would have otherwise terminated – but now they’re trying to separate their family.”

The Yellowhammer Fund is also engaged in a lawsuit against Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall after he threatened to prosecute anyone who helped a pregnant individual get an abortion out of state. Despite attempts to get the lawsuit tossed, a federal judge ruled last month that Yellowhammer Fund’s lawsuit may go forward.

The organization said the threat of criminal prosecution was enough to intimidate them into pausing their work and encroach on their freedom of speech. Numerous civil rights groups agree and are supporting their efforts.

“If Attorney General Marshall can criminalize speech and assistance related to abortion, more pregnant people will struggle to find out-of-state care and the financial and logistical support they need to obtain such care without the expertise and insights of their chosen health care provider,” said Alison Mollman, the legal director of the ACLU of Alabama in a statement after last month’s ruling.

“This could have deadly consequences for Alabamians, who are residing in a state that has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the nation, and particularly for Black women, who make up a disproportionate share of maternal deaths,” she continued.

It’s this harsh reality that makes Fountain challenge reproductive rights supporters to do more than donate to abortion funds.

“If we do this work, and we call it reproductive justice work or even abortion advocacy, it has to look like really supporting people in their needs around their care,” she said. “Because not everyone gets out of state. That’s just the reality.”

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