Mae learned she was pregnant a week after the nearest abortion clinic within a 100-mile radius had closed.
The 27-year-old Huntsville, Ala., warehouse packager said she knew she did not want to have a child, and initially she panicked when she learned the city's only abortion clinic had shut down June 30 after state lawmakers passed new regulations. Alabama's next closest clinic, in Tuscaloosa, was a 300-mile round trip away, costing gas money she did not have, and she'd have to go twice to comply with a mandatory 48-hour waiting period. She briefly considered homemade abortifacients.
Instead, with $200 in financial assistance raised in recent weeks by Alabama advocates, Mae and her fiancé drove to Nashville the morning of July 12 to end her pregnancy at a Planned Parenthood clinic.
"I know a lot of people are excited when they hear they're pregnant, but I felt like I was looking at a brick wall between me and everything I wanted to do by the time I hit my 30s and 40s," said Mae, who asked that her full name be withheld to protect her privacy. "I was not in a place where I physically, emotionally, mentally and financially could, in all clear conscience, bring a child into the world."
The Alabama Women's Center for Reproductive Rights in Huntsville was the only abortion clinic in northern Alabama, and it performed more than 1,400 abortions last year. It closed after state lawmakers passed a law this spring requiring abortion clinics to meet stricter surgical care standards.
Volunteers with Alabama Reproductive Rights Advocates turned to crowd-funding site Crowdtilt to ask for contributions to help Alabama women cover the costs of a trip to clinics in other cities, including Nashville. The group has raised about $3,600 since it launched on July 4. Organizers say they have assisted two women in travelling to Nashville to undergo abortions within the past week.
The effort comes as abortion opponents in Tennessee have highlighted the increasing number of out-of-state women who come to Tennessee for abortions as part of a voter education campaign to promote passage of Amendment 1. If passed in November, the referendum would amend the Tennessee constitution to give wider latitude to state lawmakers to enact abortion restrictions similar to those in Alabama.
As bordering states in the South pass abortion restrictions, more women have headed to Tennessee for the procedure. More than one in four abortions in Tennessee are sought by a resident of a state other than Tennessee, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Campaign materials for the Yes on 1 campaign carry an illustration of a Tennessee highway welcome sign with a title that says: "An abortion destination?"
Abortion rights proponents warn that what's happening in Alabama is a sign of what Tennessee women could face if Amendment 1 succeeds.
"Abortion rights in the South are going away, and it's tragic," said Jeff Teague, a director of the Vote No on One campaign and president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Middle and East Tennessee, which operates the Nashville clinic. "We're creating a situation where women only in certain parts of the country have access. If the abortion amendment passes, we're likely to see similar rights disappearing here."
Brian Harris, a coordinator with Yes on 1 and president of Tennessee Right to Life, noted the now-closed Huntsville clinic has been cited by state health officials for violations that included a failure to clean blood pressure cuffs and the bottoms of tables in between patients. It also had expired medicines on its shelves and failed to inform some women they had the option of viewing their ultrasound — a requirement under Alabama law.
"For the basic health and safety of the women, I'm glad they're closed," Harris said. "Obviously, we would rather they find the help and support they need in their own communities. I would encourage any women and girls to make sure any facility is inspected, licensed and is, in fact, safe."
Alabama lawmakers in 2013 passed legislation that requires clinics to meet standards for an ambulatory care center, a requirement that include detailed specifications for hallway width, doorways and other facility features.
A clinic in Birmingham and the Huntsville clinic have since closed because of the requirement. Officials with the Huntsville clinic hope to reopen in a new facility that meets state requirements but have not announced when.
Abortion clinics in Alabama and Tennessee
- Tennessee currently has seven abortion clinics — two in Nashville, two in Memphis, two in Knoxville and one in Bristol.
- A clinic in Knoxville and one in Memphis have closed within the past two years.
- Alabama currently has three abortion clinics — in Tuscaloosa, Montgomery and Mobile.
- A clinic in Birmingham and one in Huntsville have closed in recent months.