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One Black abortion clinic fears being further targeted by the justice system


Black people and people in communities of color are expected to be the hardest hit as abortion bans sweep the country. But Black abortion providers are also worried about their futures and how the bans will affect their lives and livelihoods. Dr. Sanithia Williams is an abortion provider at the Alabama Women's Center for Reproductive Alternatives in Huntsville, Ala. Welcome to the show.

SANITHIA WILLIAMS: Thank you so much for having me.

BOND: You've said that while you don't believe that abortion should be illegal, you will comply with the ban because you don't take for granted that you are a Black woman in Alabama. Can you expand on that?

WILLIAMS: Absolutely. The state is already really familiar with who the folks are who are providing abortions, right? So I'm, you know, very well aware that the state knows exactly who I am. Whenever we provided care previously, you know, we had to send reports to the public health department. And so they know exactly who I am. And so as a Black woman, I'm really familiar with the idea of what happens to Black folks when they interact with the criminal justice system.

And even in a situation where charges might be made and I was able to be vindicated, that, in and of itself, is potentially harmful to me. And so I'm really kind of well aware, as a Black woman, that I want to be careful about how I'm moving, the types of decisions that I'm making and making sure that I'm doing everything according to the letter of the law.

BOND: And can you talk a bit more about the role that Black providers, Black-owned clinics, play in places like Alabama, where abortion access was already very limited, even before this decision, in terms of - and actually, not just abortion access - right? - just health care access.

WILLIAMS: Yeah, absolutely. So, you know, we are a Black-owned clinic, and both of our abortion providers are Black, as well. The vast majority of our patients are people of color. And, you know, I think one of the things that was really important to me when I was starting to do abortion care is just what it means to have someone from your community taking care of you, right?

BOND: Right.

WILLIAMS: You know, abortion can be experienced by different people in lots of different ways. But for many folks, even if they're not having a difficult time with the decision or with the process of the abortion, everyone is sort of impacted by the stigma of what they think an abortion will be like. And so it's super frequent for folks to previously have come into our office and said, everybody is so nice and I didn't expect that, and I didn't expect it to be this pretty and I didn't expect to feel this taken care of.

BOND: Now, I mean, as you said and we know, communities of color will be affected the most by these bans. What are your main concerns?

WILLIAMS: Probably the biggest one is really about safety. We know that there are going to be some people who, when they find out that they're pregnant, they will have the resources to go to another state and be able to get an abortion if that's what they're choosing to do. But there will be a lot of people who don't have the resources for that, and their pregnancies are going to continue. So I feel many, many concerns about the potential risk to the women in my community.

I also have fears about criminalization in my community as well. In a place where the restrictions are so stringent, there is a significant risk to patients who might - thought to be having had self-managed their abortion or, you know, otherwise criminalized, because there is this concern that they had an abortion.

BOND: That they themselves would be targeted.

WILLIAMS: Correct, right? And while that's not necessarily something that is on the books - right? - there is not necessarily a law that says that a patient can't necessarily use these medications, being accused of something, being arrested, being put in jail, having to come up with bail even before court proceedings - all of that has significant impacts on people's lives.

BOND: So as a Black abortion provider, what is next for you, given everything that has happened?

WILLIAMS: The answer is I don't know. As of right now, I'm continuing to do my general obstetrics and gynecology work. I'm continuing to offer prenatal care and attend births and that sort of thing. There has been discussion about, you know, the potential of doing some travel abortion care, but it's not something that I have committed to yet. It's long days away from your family. But at some point, it may become too much and it may be too hard to stay.

And I say that from the perspective of, you know, in the last week, we've started to see patients who have come into our regular practice who are finding out that they're pregnant and don't want to be. And those conversations are even more crushing. It's hard, you know, when someone is coming to you and saying, I don't want to be pregnant and I don't know what to do. That is a challenging conversation to have. But to have that conversation and not be able to offer them one of the options that, you know, they may potentially want is devastating. It's devastating as a provider.

BOND: Dr. Sanithia Williams is an abortion provider at the Alabama Women's Center for Reproductive Alternatives in Huntsville, Ala. Dr. Williams, thank you for joining us.

WILLIAMS: Thank you so much for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF FOUR TET'S "MOMA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Shannon Bond is a business correspondent at NPR, covering technology and how Silicon Valley's biggest companies are transforming how we live, work and communicate.