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.
Kwajelyn Jackson is known throughout the South—and increasingly, across the country—as one of the reproductive justice movement’s most powerful voices. She is the executive director of the Feminist Women’s Health Center (FWHC) in Atlanta, where she has been central to the fight against anti-abortion laws in the state.
Under Jackson’s leadership, FWHC has transformed into a multigenerational, multiracial organization and a clinic operationalizing reproductive justice as part of patient care. The work is not easy, especially in a state like Georgia, which has been subjected to a byzantine array of anti-abortion laws, court battles, and injunctions that confuse people about whether they can access abortion care.
Georgia—like North Carolina and Florida—was once an outlier in the South where abortion was more accessible. Since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade with its Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization ruling, abortion rights have been further decimated across the region. Prior to Georgia’s current six-week ban, abortion was once available up to 20 weeks post-fertilization. Abortion was available up to 15 weeks of pregnancy in Florida until April, when Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a six-week ban into law. And in North Carolina where abortion was until recently legal up to 20 weeks, medication abortion is currently banned after 10 weeks, and procedural abortion is banned after 12 weeks since portions of the anti-abortion law Senate Bill 20 went into effect July 1.
Jackson is preparing for things to get worse, but she is also adamant that things will get better. In a recent phone call with Prism, she discussed the critical role that education plays in the work that FWHC does, the importance of delving into how abortion bans overwhelmingly harm Black communities, and her deeply held belief that abortion rights will be restored. Here she is, in her own words:
As an executive director, the decision-making that I’ve had to do over the last year has been some of the hardest of my career. I’ve felt a lot of pressure around ensuring the safety and well-being of our staff and our patients while also trying to find ways for us to continue to survive as a clinic and as a direct service provider in the face of the six-week ban.
When a ban goes into effect, independent clinics like ours feel the loss so heavily because we lose revenue from abortion care and because it’s another reminder that abortion is not guaranteed. We are building out our non-abortion services—not only because there is a need, but so that if Georgia laws change our ability to provide abortion care, it will not decimate us. We are developing our prenatal services, postpartum care, fertility support, gender-affirming care, and mental and behavioral health services because we know all of these things are connected and because building out these services will root us more firmly in community care.
It has been an overwhelming time—even though the law didn’t change immediately in Georgia after the Dobbs decision. We had three weeks after Dobbs and before the six-week ban went into effect where we were doing our best to absorb patients fleeing the total bans in states that surround Georgia, like Alabama, Tennessee, Mississippi, Louisiana, Kentucky, and Texas. In Georgia, people from places with zero access are trying to get to us as early as possible to work within the restrictions so they can get care. If they have to get turned away by us because of the six-week ban, they are making calculated decisions about where to go next.
This is why the laws changing in North Carolina and Florida deeply affect the Southeast; it’s an entire quadrant of the country where care is being decimated. When our six-week ban went into effect, we saw a drastic drop in the number of patients coming to us. I think part of the reason why is because people believed that Georgia had a total ban. I think there’s a little bit of fault in the messaging from abortion advocates because, in a lot of ways, we did talk about the six-week ban as a total ban. We never stopped providing abortion care, but people thought they were living in a state with a total ban.
Providing education to the community is really important. We need people to know that abortion is still legal in Georgia—even though it’s severely constrained. On the other end of that, our phone education staff is doing a lot of work so that people don’t drive hundreds of miles, make their way through the protesters at the foot of our driveway, and wait hours in the waiting room only then to get an ultrasound and learn that actually no, they cannot access care in Georgia. We are doing a lot of work to help folks retrace their steps—using information about their symptoms and cycle—to try to determine if they can get care with us.
It’s also important for folks to understand that Georgia still has exceptions to the ban. We are still seeing patients beyond the point of [electrical activity in the embryo] if they are pregnant due to rape or incest or if there is a fetal anomaly incongruent with life outside of the uterus. We are still seeing patients later in pregnancy if they fall into those exception categories. As much as I struggle with this hierarchy of “acceptable” and “unacceptable” abortions that is associated with exceptions, those exceptions are incredibly important to many people who need care, and I’m grateful they exist.
We are already seeing the power of community education. Over the last several months, we have seen our numbers increase, and more people are coming earlier in their pregnancy. In August or September, we maybe had 10 patients on days we provide care. Now we are seeing more than 20. I think more people now understand the confines of the law, and more people have access to resources because of abortion funds. No one is wasting time, and I think that’s one of the greatest ironies of anti-abortion folks’ insistence on enforcing waiting periods so people will reconsider their decision. When you put time constraints on people, they act quickly. That’s not to say that people aren’t being thoughtful. They just don’t have time to waver. As soon as they get a positive pregnancy test, they are calling us and saying they want an appointment because they know how limited the timeframe is to access care—especially as the laws continue to change in the states that surround us.
I worry about states like South Carolina that have more accessible laws because that means they will absorb even more patients from across the South. To care for an overwhelming number of patients while also addressing the needs of staff and providers is a difficult position to be in, and clinics should not have to work around the clock to try to address a problem they did not create.
I am very intentional in referring to anti-abortion legislation as cruel. These laws very intentionally fail to acknowledge the humanity of the people who are affected by them.
This dehumanization piece is what I feel is exceptionally cruel. It is the unwillingness to consider the broader conditions that people are living under, the myriad of circumstances that contribute to the decisions that people are often forced to make. We use the word “choice” a lot, but if we actually zoom out and think about the limited choices that people have been given and the dynamics of what they are surviving under, they don’t have much of a choice.
To me, part of the cruelty is to create a scenario in which people cannot access preventative, comprehensive health care—and thousands and thousands of people cannot access health care at all because of the state’s unwillingness to expand Medicaid. Then when those same people find themselves with an unplanned or unintended pregnancy, you deny them abortion care and force them to continue in these circumstances—regardless of the chronic, untreated conditions they may also be experiencing. This also denies them the ability to have healthy birth outcomes. Their well-being is not a priority; control of their life is the priority. This very disconnected way that lawmakers make decisions about people’s very basic humanity every single day is needlessly and exceptionally cruel. And the targets are often people who have been neglected for generations and whose lives are made infinitely worse because they are denied abortion care as another step in their dehumanization.
I think this is why one of my biggest complaints about how anti-abortion laws are reported on is that there’s usually a single throwaway line about how a ban will disproportionately affect communities of color—and that’s it. It’s one sentence; there is no more context. It’s written as a foregone conclusion or irreversible fact. I’d like for [reporters] to get into the root causes and the social conditions that got us here. What are the things that have happened over generations that have led these communities to be disproportionately impacted? Think about the pre-Roe abortion bans that are hundreds of years old, the judge’s ruling to suspend the [U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s] decades’ old approval of [the abortion medication] mifepristone that cited the Comstock Act, like that’s totally normal. Think about how the Supreme Court referred to “history and tradition” in the Dobbs decision, but then never really talked about what those histories and traditions entailed. People need to understand the bigger picture.
In the coming years, the people who are desperate to hold onto the power they have amassed are going to take bigger risks to maintain white supremacy. They see people voting in droves. They see people running for office on activist platforms. They see Black and brown communities maintaining and holding their ground and acting on behalf of people whose lives have been taken by the state. They see progressive education becoming pervasive. They are seeing the world change around them in a way that does not uphold the systems of oppression that they have so long enjoyed. So they’re feeling like, “We’ve got to squash this now. We cannot allow for the people’s voices to be heard.” The perfect example of this is what just happened with Cop City [here in Atlanta]. There were 15 hours of testimony until 5:30 in the morning. Hundreds and hundreds of people from all across the city—all ages, all races and faith traditions—showed up to oppose Cop City. And what did the City Council do? They played in their faces.
What I really want people to understand is that this is the last gasp. This is white supremacy, capitalism, and patriarchy clinging to anything it can in an effort to erode our ability to change conditions in the U.S. They are going to try to decimate each marginalized group even further. They are going to try to separate us from one another. They’re going to dehumanize us further. They are going to try until the bitter end, and we have to act in solidarity and resistance to these efforts. It is because we are so powerful together that their opposition to us is so extreme.
I believe with my full heart that abortion access will be restored in the U.S. I also think it will get worse before it gets better, we are going to have to survive more hardship, and we are going to lose more people in our fight to change the conditions we are currently living under. That’s the hard part, and we can’t fast forward through it. There is no magic savior that will pull us through. We’re going to have to work hard to resist and survive and get to a liberated future. But I am certain it is possible.