Post-Roe politics

Allie Phillips is running for office in the district where she was denied a life-saving abortion

Allie Phillips is running for office in her district in Clarksville, Tennessee, following a traumatic abortion experience earlier this year. She spoke with Andrea Blanco about how she’s one of the first women to run for office who has been directly impacted by the overturning of Roe v Wade.

Wednesday 29 November 2023 17:41 GMT
(Allie Phillips, AP, iStock)

Allie Phillips kept reading the same story after the fall of Roe: women and girls desperately seeking abortions but unable to get them.

“I got tired of seeing article after article after article of women in Texas, women in Tennessee, women in Florida, women in Idaho,” Ms Phillips, 28, tells The Independent. “Just state after state after state ... all of these continuous travesties, these devastating stories.”

In March, Ms Phillips was the one making headlines, after she documented on social media her 1,000-mile trip from Clarksville, Tennessee to New York to get a life-saving abortion because it wasn’t legal in her home state.

Eight months later, Ms Phillips announced her candidacy for the Tennessee House of Representatives.

Ms Phillips is among the first of a wave of women directly impacted by the 2022 Supreme Court ruling to run for office. The fall of Roe v Wade has energised voters across the country, with abortion rights becoming a focal point in the outcome of the recent off-year elections in states like Ohio and Kentucky.

The tipping point for Ms Phillips deciding to run came after she realised how “out-of-touch” and unfazed her local politicians seemed about women’s reproductive rights.

Ms Phillips tells The Independent that her local representative, Republican Jeff Burkhart, admitted to her during a meeting in June that he thought “only first pregnancies could go bad.” He then went on to say, according to Ms Phillips, that he’d hypothetically advise his own daughter to continue a pregnancy even if it put her life at risk.

Except Ms Phillips knows exactly what that terrifying moment feels like.

Allie Phillips, 28, and her husband had been trying for a baby and were delighted when they found out her daughter would...
Allie Phillips, 28, and her husband had been trying for a baby and were delighted when they found out her daughter would... (Allie Phillips)

She and her husband, Bryan, were elated when they learned about their planned-for pregnancy. Ms Phillips excitedly told her then-six-year-old daughter that she would become a big sister and the little girl’s beaming smile was captured in pictures announcing the expected arrival of the baby they had already named Miley Rose.

But on week 19, doctors made it clear that Miley’s long list of complications were fatal, and that she would eventually die in utero. At the time, Tennessee’s strict abortion ban laws did not allow exceptions, even in cases of foetal anomaly, or risk to the mother’s life.

Allie Phillips was told that her pregnancy was unviable
Allie Phillips was told that her pregnancy was unviable (Allie Phillips)

Her home state insisted she had to continue the pregnancy, even though her doctors warned her that her life was at risk, so Ms Phillips scraped together funds and travelled interstate. While alone inside a sterile exam room of a New York City abortion clinic, Ms Phillips was told they could no longer detect a heartbeat. The longed-for baby was now an imminent threat to her health.

“I just started crying,” Ms Phillips tells The Independent, breaking down in tears as she relived the conversation with the technician. “I was mostly prepared for the next day to lose Miley. I wasn’t ready that day. I didn’t want Miley to go either way, but I thought I at least had one more day with her.”

The loss radicalised her — so despite Rep Burkhart’s dismissive comments, she appreciated when he promised to get Ms Phillips a meeting with Tennessee’s Attorney General. That promise did not materialise following what Ms Phillips called “beat-around-the-bush” responses anytime she followed up.

Allie Phillips is running for office in Clarksville following a traumatic abortion experience
Allie Phillips is running for office in Clarksville following a traumatic abortion experience (Allie Phillips/Instagram)

“The most recent response I got from him was, ‘There’s really not much I can do until I’m back in session in January,’” she says. “I [told] him, ‘OK, so women are just supposed to put their lives on the line until January? Got it.’ He didn’t respond to me.”

A fierce believer in abortion access for all — both for those who wished for a baby but couldn’t deliver one compatible with life and those facing any other reason to terminate a pregnancy — Ms Phillips says she is determined to turn her trauma into purpose.

Talking with family members and friends made her realise her personal experience made her the right person to carry the message.

“If anybody’s going to fight for Miley and my daughter, it’s going to be me,” Ms Phillips says.

Her social media followers, whom she has been sharing her abortion and campaign journey with, have coined the term “Miley’s Law” for what she describes as legislation to secure abortion access in, at least, the riskiest of cases.

“I’m going to get Miley’s Law to the legislation. However that looks like is how I’m going to do it,” Ms Phillips says.

She is also one of the plaintiffs in a Center for Reproductive Rights lawsuit against multiple states that have denied patients’ access to emergency abortions. In Tennessee, narrow exceptions were silently passed by Gov Bill Lee in April, a month after Ms Phillip’s abortion and eight months after the original “trigger laws” were enacted.

Allie Phillips meeting with members of her community in Clarksville, Tennessee
Allie Phillips meeting with members of her community in Clarksville, Tennessee (Allie Phillips)

Ms Phillips is used to being a mom but she is still figuring out how to be a politician as well. At first, that meant buying blazers, staring at herself in the mirror hoping her reflection resembled whatever a politician is supposed to look like, and wondering if she was going to be able to raise enough money for her campaign.

Lately, it has meant meeting with past representatives and fully embracing the fact that she’ll be facing Rep Burkhart in the election next August. Just two weeks after announcing her campaign, Ms Phillips says donations have poured in from every state in the country.

So she’ll continue calling out trolls accusing her of “killing her baby” on TikTok, much to her campaign manager’s dismay, and raising hell until women’s lives are no longer on the line.

“I understand not everybody agrees with abortion,” Ms Phillips says. “But the bottom line is that I had to make a healthcare decision for myself and nobody should be judged or ridiculed or attacked or get death threats because of a medical decision.”

Earlier this month, Ms Phillips returned to New York City. This time, she spoke about her story at a panel hosted by the media groupThe Meteorat the Brooklyn Museum.

The seat she is running for is a “winnable seat,” Ms Phillips said, and she is the first Democrat to run for it in a long time.

“I’ve been told, ‘You’re not going to win. You’re too young, you’re too pretty, you’re a woman,’” Ms Phillips told the crowd. “Watch me.”

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