Jenice Fountain, executive director of Alabama's Yellowhammer Fund shares the post-Roe abortion landscape in the 1 year post-Roe series
Jenice Fountain, executive director of Alabama's Yellowhammer Fund / Designed by Lara Witt

One year post-Roe is an as-told-to series led by Prism’s Editor-at-Large Tina Vásquez, marking the milestone by featuring new and veteran advocates and organizers, abortion storytellers, providers, clinic directors, abortion fund volunteers, and reproductive justice organizers. You can read the complete series here

Alabama is the worst-case scenario for abortion rights—a total ban with extremely limited exceptions in which providing abortion care is a felony punishable by up to 99 years in prison. Yet those in the state are rarely uplifted in public discourse about the ramifications of anti-abortion laws, and calls to send resources to the South really just mean sending more support to states like Georgia and Texas. The message seems to be that Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and other red states in the Deep South are a lost cause. 

Jenice Fountain said this has everything to do with people’s misconceptions of the region. Namely, the bizarre perception that Alabamaians simply don’t fight for their rights. It’s racist, and it’s “bullshit,” Fountain said. 

The mother of three is a longtime reproductive justice advocate in the state. She founded the Birmingham-based organization Margins: Women Helping Black Women, and she’s also the executive director of Alabama’s tiny but mighty Yellowhammer Fund. The reproductive justice organization has managed to weather an onslaught of anti-abortion laws over the years, pivoting every step of the way to expand assistance and make resources and funds more accessible to communities in the state.

This “cultural organizing,” as Fountain calls it, is a top priority for her as executive director of the Yellowhammer Fund. She said that one of her greatest post-Roe “heartbreaks” was watching the abortion rights movement in states with bans focus almost exclusively on out-of-state care. This approach leaves a lot of people behind—especially in Alabama. 

Fountain recently spoke to Prism about the Yellowhammer Fund’s new legal fund, the buzzwords she’s sick of hearing, and why intention is critical in reproductive justice work. Here she is, in her own words: 

I came on as executive director the week of the Dobbs decision. They were like, “You should be executive director now.” I was like, “Nah, I’m good.” But here we are. 

People were panicking before the official Dobbs decision even came down. After the [Supreme Court] leak, we got 10,000 orders for emergency contraceptives. Before, we got about 400 orders a month, and overnight, we got 10,000. It was worrisome to see that level of panic. 

Anyone who reached out to us for funding before the leak, we got them care as quickly as possible. Even that process felt scary because we didn’t know if we were risking anything by doing that. Right after the leak, our lines went totally cold. That’s unusual for us. Right now, we have people reaching back out for abortion access, and it’s confusing. We don’t know what’s happening that’s making people think they can access abortion again in Alabama [where abortion is completely banned]. 

There’s a huge divide in people’s understanding of the law. Like, there are people who think you can be charged with murder for trying to access care, and there are people who don’t seem to understand that it’s completely and utterly illegal here. I worry about the number of people who don’t have time to figure out how to get across state lines, so they’re just going to have another child. Or the people who will get caught trying to self-manage. Or trying to leave the state for care, and someone reports them, and they get put in the [Department of Human Resources (DHR)] system. Or the people who will go to an [anti-abortion fake clinic] and get harmed. In this atmosphere, there are a lot of scenarios that can play out, and few of them are good. 

This is why we started a legal fund. We are heavily surveilled here, and the folks most surveilled are the ones who use state services, including people who use Medicaid for health care. What happens if you have a miscarriage, and they think you tried to self-manage? What if you did self-manage? What are the legal options you have in Alabama? How do you fight that? [Editor’s note: According to medical experts, there is no test that can detect the medications commonly used for abortion, and you are under no legal obligation to tell a doctor or medical staff that you self-managed.] We’ve just been thinking about all of the ways people can end up in the carceral system. So if you try to self-manage, if you try to get out of town, if you end up in the DHR system and they take your children—because that’s what the state does—we have money to pay for someone’s legal representation.  

We’re doing a lot, even though the legal advice we received after Dobbs was basically, “Don’t do anything.” Obviously, we’re a bunch of activists, and that wasn’t going to work for us. At first we really doubled down on getting people emergency contraceptives, which is good. But it’s not good enough. When we started to get a lot of questions about whether [emergency contraceptives] were an “abortion pill,” we knew we had a lot of work to do. We needed to be on the ground, giving people emergency contraceptives, explaining what they were, and how they worked, how they didn’t work as well if you were more than 165 pounds. It wasn’t going to be enough to ship it or have a place where people could come get it. Many people were touting those efforts, but they didn’t include everybody or reach everybody they needed to. That works if you have the internet or you have resources, time, and gas to come get it. It’s different to go into a neighborhood, hand it out, and talk to people. My thing is, we can’t just keep sitting at our computers and expecting people to come find us. Let’s go into the community, let’s take lunches, let’s have conversations—and if they want to talk about abortion access, let’s give them resources and information. 

That’s kind of the post-Dobbs trend. When people immediately jumped to just getting people across state lines for abortion care, I knew that wouldn’t really work in Alabama. A lot of people barely leave their community and have never traveled out of the state. They’re not going to cross state lines for an abortion—especially when they don’t have paid time off, they don’t have anyone to watch their kids, they barely have money for food, and their rent is due. It’s not going to happen. I actually felt like it was really sad to see so many groups pivot to only getting people across state lines and not think about anyone else. 

There’s a lot of things that feel infuriating, to be honest. We recently had some reporters from France come, and they were like, “Why aren’t y’all fighting back? Why didn’t y’all vote?” It was every stereotype about how people see Alabama—and I guess that perception is worldwide. 

After Dobbs, people kept saying to send resources to the South, and then they sent resources to Georgia, Texas, and Florida. It feels like, “Heeey, we are drowning under Republican legislation here; please send help.” People treat us like the throwaway state. We are the state where people think there’s no hope because we’re a red state. We’re the, “Why didn’t you vote?” state, which is extra infuriating while we’re literally fighting racial gerrymandering. When someone needs an abortion, are you going to be like, “But wait, did you vote?”

For us, the way into political conversations has been through a fellowship for community members. We have 25 fellows, and they attend popular education sessions that we pay them to attend. We’ve done one on how to engage legislators, one on sex ed, and another on feminism as a way to combat patriarchy. We learned a lot from these sessions. In one, this woman started to talk about an anti-abortion center, also known as a “crisis pregnancy center,” in a way that sounded kind of positive. And all of us were sitting there like, “Wait, what do you mean?” My facial expressions are horrible, so I was sitting there distraught. But as she kept talking about her experience, she was like, “In hindsight, it was actually kind of gross and made me feel pretty uncomfortable.” So then we could talk about it in real-time. If you don’t have all the context, it’s harder to name harm. So having people around you that can give you that context and affirm what you felt can be powerful. 

It’s interesting to see how little people understand about how marginalization plays a role in surveillance and criminalization in 2023.

I think a lot of people skip over the cultural organizing work that allows you to really build relationships and base-build that way. People want to have thousands of supporters, but for us it’s been really meaningful to identify 25 fellows who are trusted members of their community; they are people whom the community trusts to have risky conversations with. We gave the fellows safer sex kits, information on self-managing, and just every resource we have. It makes a difference. Now, when someone is like, “I’m pregnant, and I don’t know what to do,” they have someone in their community who does know what to do. 

Over the last year, I think the piece that still kind of catches me off guard is the infringement on my free speech. It’s not that I have a fairy tale idea about the protections we have. But it is still kind of shocking how careful I have to be. Like, how can you tell me that I cannot tell someone how to get to care? It’s baffling to me still, as a person who’s navigated all of the systems in most of the ways. I feel like it’s bullshit—especially now that I’m executive director. Before, I was on the ground, and risk was different because I’m talking to people who trust me, and I trust them, and I’m in the neighborhood with my community. It’s different now. 

Being executive director of a fund in this climate is something else entirely. I went on MSNBC, and someone tried to kidnap one of my kids after [my appearance]. They literally tried to pick up my youngest from school. It didn’t work. People have driven by my home and taken pictures of me. I did a risk assessment with a security team, and they said my current risk level is high because I’m on the radar of Patriot Front, some white supremacist group. And I think about my white staff members, who in no way have been named, targeted, nothing. 

I went to California for a panel on reproductive justice, and then I did the same panel in New York, and it was really interesting to hear people say, “Why don’t you just do it anyways? Just take people across state lines, do it anyway.” It felt upsetting. It was clear they don’t know how surveillance works, or what it’s like to be a Black organizer in Alabama. I’m still getting shit from things I did last year that weren’t even explicitly against the law. It’s interesting to see how little people understand about how marginalization plays a role in surveillance and criminalization in 2023. Maybe if it meant getting care for thousands of people or it led to overturning the law, but you want me to go to jail just to say I fought back? That doesn’t make sense. We want the Yellowhammer Fund to continue to exist, and it’s not going to like that.

We just really need to do things with intention. Do I want more people to focus on cultural organizing? Yeah, but if you’re just going into a neighborhood to talk at people and not build relationships or assume people have anything to add to the conversation? Then no. Like, I wouldn’t even hate if reporters came around looking for trauma porn if they did it with intention. The French reporters who came here wanted to be introduced to a poor person without food who needed to access abortion care—and then the reporters wanted to go to their house. I can’t imagine operating that way. 

I think some people’s stories really do need to be told, but reporters don’t seem to have the time or capacity to actually build a relationship with someone sharing something deeply traumatic and, in some way, make sure they actually get something out of that experience. I’ve talked to reporters, and my story was really traumatic, and they were like, “This is really great!” And I just felt like: What part was great, the part when I almost died or the part about homelessness? The lack of intention across the movement really upsets me. We need to slow down and engage people in a way that’s harm reductive. 

It’s going to be a long time before we get abortion rights back. I need everyone to shift to keeping people safe in the meantime. 

Post-Dobbs, I thought people would be more willing to tackle the hard stuff. I thought people would really be ready to reckon with forced birthing, which would maybe lead them to really want to address disparities in maternal health. Maybe that would lead them to being able to discuss the harm of Child Protective Services and how Black and brown people lose their kids to the system more—especially after the governor streamlined adoption services post-Dobbs. Nope. 

Everyone just pivoted to getting people out of state for care. This is a problem we had before Dobbs: Y’all only care about the people who can access care. You don’t care about the people we leave behind. I guess I was hoping the silver lining would be that people would be more inclusive in their work. That has not happened. People say the buzzwords, they say they know who is disproportionately impacted by these bans … and then that’s it. How does the work reflect that? Are y’all mobilizing in the community? No. Are y’all talking to disabled folks or undocumented people about getting care? No. So why use buzzwords? It’s about funding. If you have 50 times the budget of funds like ours, if you wanted to do more inclusive work, you would. 

So there is no silver lining. There really isn’t. It took a long time to overturn Roe. It’s going to be a long time before we get abortion rights back. I need everyone to shift to keeping people safe in the meantime. 

Tina Vásquez is the editor-at-large at Prism. She covers gender justice, workers' rights, and immigration. Follow her on Twitter @TheTinaVasquez.