TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – It was lunchtime at the abortion clinic, so the recovery room nurse pulled her Bible out of her bag in the closet and started reading.
“Trust the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding,” her favorite saying goes, and she returns to it again and again. “He will make your paths straight. »
She believes God led her here, to a job at the West Alabama Women’s Center, caring for post-abortion patients. “I trust in God,” said Ramona, who asked that her last name not be used due to the volatility of the abortion debate in the United States.
In the parking lot, protesters yelled at patients arriving for appointments, fighting back against what they see as a grave sin.
The loudest voices in the abortion debate are often characterized by a blatant religious divide, believers versus nays. But the reality is much more nuanced, both in this abortion clinic and in the nation around it. The clinic’s staff of 11 – mostly black, deeply faithful Christian women – have no trouble balancing their work with their religion.
And as the US Supreme Court looks set to dismantle the constitutional right to abortion, they are leaning on their belief that they will continue one way or another.
God is on our side, they tell themselves. God will keep this clinic open.
Robin Marty, who moved from Minneapolis to Tuscaloosa a few years ago to help run this clinic, was surprised to hear nurses praying for advice as the future of abortion becomes uncertain.
“That was one of the things that gave me a kick – I had this stereotype in my head of a religious person from the South,” Marty said. “I just assumed there was no compatibility between religious people and people who support the possibility of having an abortion.”
Marty realized she was wrong. This is a common mistake.
“We need to have a real conversation about what we describe as Christianity,” said Kendra Cotton, a member of the Black Southern Women’s Collective, a network of black women organizers, many of whom belong to faith groups.
The white evangelical worldview that abortion is murder has consumed the conversation, flattening understanding of how religion and views on abortion really intersect, she said.
Before Roe v. Wade, religious leaders in many places spearheaded efforts to help pregnant women access clandestine abortions, as they saw it as a call to show compassion and mercy to the most vulnerable.
Today, Black Protestants hold some of the most liberal views on abortion access: nearly 70% believe abortion should be legal in most or all cases, according to the Public Religion Research Institute. . White evangelicals are at the other extreme, with just 24% believing abortion should be allowed in most or all cases.
For loyal women of color, there’s often a very different balance of values when it comes to whether women should be able to end unwanted pregnancies, Cotton said.
“We know that Christianity supports freedom and that bodily autonomy is inherent in freedom. Free will is inherent in Christianity. When people say the body is a temple of God, you have power over your body, there is nothing more sacred,” Cotton said.
The idea that the state limits what a person can do with their own body is in direct conflict with this, she said, and it is reminiscent of being under someone’s control. another – from slavery.
“You can’t tell me what to do,” Cotton said.
In Tuscaloosa, the West Alabama Women’s Center sits on the edge of some nondescript medical plaza, half a mile from the University of Alabama campus. Although much of the center’s clientele are college students, others come from across the state and some from surrounding areas – it’s the only abortion clinic for two hours in any direction. Many of their clients are black, many already have children, and more than 75% survive below the poverty line.
Each patient arrives in Ramona’s recovery room after her abortion. She dims the lights. Working here, for her, looks like a virtuous vocation. She believes the Christian way is to love people where they are, and that means walking kindly with them as they make the best decision for themselves.
Sometimes they cry and tell him they don’t want to be there. She has heard stories of rape and domestic violence, but most speak of fear of having more mouths than they can afford to feed. She always says, “I understand.
“I mean that, I get it; I experienced that myself,” she said.
Ramona, 39, is a single mother of four and had her first child when she was 16. She sometimes imagines what her life might have been like had she started her family later. She had to drop out of college. There were times when her children were young when she couldn’t pay the gas bill, and she boiled water so they could take hot baths.
“Women go through so much; it’s hard,” she said. “So you should have that choice whether or not you’re ready to be a mother. Nobody else should choose for you.
Her daughter used to say, “Mom, I want to be like you,” and she would stop her. “No, ma’am,” she told him. “I want you to be better.” Her daughter is now 22 and studying to become a doctor.
She lifted herself out of poverty and built a life she loves. Her colleague at reception calls her Miss Wonderful – she is at peace with God, she says, so every day is wonderful.
For a while she tried to be friendly with one of the regulars protesting outside, trying to convince patients that abortion is murder and they shouldn’t come in. She would visit her during her breaks or when she was leaving for the day. They discussed scripture, forgiveness, sin.
She said, “I see where you come from. Can you see where I come from? I’m not going to love you any less because of what you believe in or what you think.
Then one day, she was passing by and he shouted to her: When you die, you know where you’re going, and it’s not paradise. She no longer speaks to him.
Alesia Horton, the director of the clinic, watched the protesters through the window.
“I don’t know which Bible they read, because it’s not the one I read,” she said. She and Ramona have been friends since childhood and share a Christian faith.
If people heard the stories she had inside that clinic, she can’t imagine trying to force people to be forced into motherhood. She once had a patient who had cancer, wanted the child but couldn’t continue chemotherapy while she was pregnant. She had to choose between her own life and the child she wanted.
Just two weeks ago, Horton cried when she met a 13-year-old boy who had been raped, and she couldn’t shake the look on the child’s face, staring into the exam room.
“It’s going to be okay. Don’t think you did something wrong because you didn’t,” Horton told him.
She often hears patients screaming that they are going to hell.
“I had patients against abortion until it happened to their child, or it happened to them,” she said. “The first thing they say, ‘I don’t believe it.’ And I said, ‘Let’s go. Now that you’re pregnant, what do you do? You still won’t believe it? Now you’re on the other side. Where you used to judge, now it’s you. ”
They pray that the Supreme Court does not overturn Roe v. Wade because they know their poorest patients will bear the brunt of abortion bans. Rich women will always find a way. They can travel to states where abortion is legal and all the headaches that entails: work stoppages, babysitters, full tanks of gas, hotel rooms.
If Roe falls, abortion would be banned in Alabama in almost all cases. A 2019 state law, suspended by the courts for now, prohibits the procedure in all but emergency cases. This clinic will try to stay open for those who stay. It transforms into a full-service gynecology practice that people can turn to if they are having a self-abortion and need medical attention, without fear of someone reporting them to the police.
Meanwhile, the ideological gap between insider and outsider believers remains wide.
Some of the protesters outside stand quietly, holding signs and hoping their silent presence will shake patients enough to return to their cars and go home. Some yell at patients as they cross the parking lot on their way to the clinic, trying to hand them flyers or direct them to the anti-abortion crisis pregnancy center next door. Some say they want to ban abortion altogether, with no exceptions, even in cases of rape or life-threatening complications, because they believe abortion is murder under any circumstances. Most would not give their name; the pregnancy center declined an interview.
Protesters are sometimes aggressive: they’ve shouted in the back doors of the clinic, recorded the transport of biohazard bins, called the police if a patient went on a rampage when he told them they were going to hell.
The clinic locks the doors for security during the lunch hour between morning and afternoon appointments. Recently, while Ramona was reading her Bible in the back room, a 23-year-old woman came in and couldn’t get in.
A group of protesters waved at the woman, who did not want to be named. She was confused – maybe these people worked for the clinic. “We can help you,” they told him.
“I just walked in there and had a million things thrown in my face,” the woman said. “I’m a baby killer, I’m a murderer.”
She runs away crying. Clinic staff overheard her and looked for her.
“I’m so sorry,” Horton said.
She watched the protesters through the window.
“God is not theirs,” she said, “God is all ours.”