The first thing you see when you arrive at the airport in Birmingham, Alabama, is the face of Governor Kay Ivey. “Welcome to Birmingham,” the banner beside her smiling face reads, adding that Alabama is world-renowned for its natural beauty and its history. That may well be true, but as I arrive in the Yellowhammer State (so nicknamed for the woodpecker which populates much of the rural areas), Alabama is making headlines for a very different reason.
In May, Governor Ivey signed into law a near-total abortion ban disingenuously named the Human Life Protection Act. This piece of legislation, even more restrictive than other bills which have recently made the news (notably the “foetal heartbeat bill” in the neighbouring state of Georgia, which bans abortions after a foetal heartbeat is detectable on an ultrasound), banned all abortion except when a mother faces a “serious health risk” that can only be solved by a termination. It famously doesn’t allow exceptions in the case of rape or incest, and is so severe that it had come to be known as “the abortion ban”. It is due to come into effect in November.
Birmingham is an industrial city punctuated by high-rises and pickup trucks with “God bless America” license plates. Just under a third of residents live below the poverty line, with black women suffering the most income inequality. The city’s Planned Parenthood clinic, however – just one of three clinics in the entire state currently providing abortions – is situated in an obviously wealthy area. Past imposing clapperboard mansions and well-manicured lawns, the reproductive health clinic stands, complete with CCTV cameras, reinforced doors, thick blinds pulled across the windows and the defiant sign: “Planned Parenthood: Care. No matter what.”
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