A steady rain poured from thick gray clouds on the morning of April 18 in Tuscaloosa, outside one of only two open abortion centers currently in Alabama. Inside the waiting rooms of the West Alabama Women’s Center about a dozen women sat quietly in chairs, some from Tuscaloosa and some from hours away, but all waiting to be called back.

Only one woman, Jamey Julian, seven weeks pregnant, a gas station manager and mom of a six-year-old currently living in Pinson, Alabama, sat on a bench outside the clinic; she was waiting for the abortion pill. Julian said she paid $400 for the procedure alone and  “didn’t have that kind of money,” let alone a stable financial situation for a new baby. A faulty condom led to her pregnancy.

“It’s an emotional thing, especially when you already have a child… You know how beautiful it will be, it’s hard to come up here and do something like this…” Julian trailed off for a moment, pain filling her eyes. “I’m making the best decision for the baby—a lot of a people think it’s selfish, but I can’t take care of it, don’t you see? A baby needs its mother, I can’t give it that.”

Even with her husband currently in jail, while she struggles financially to give her child what he needs, she said it was still a hard decision. She mentioned how a lady she met in the waiting room was surprised the “protestors” weren’t outside, given they were there when she was previously making an appointment.

“If they were, I probably wouldn’t be sitting out here. It would make me feel more ashamed,” Julian said. “No one easily chooses to get pregnant and go this route, especially when someone tells you you’re terrible for it.  But I want to be able to give my kids what they need. You have to think about the future.”

Gloria Gray, the clinic director, said the “protestors,” or what they refer to as the anti-abortion  “sidewalk counselors,” were not out because of the heavy rain. Gray said no one employed at the West Alabama Women’s Center is allowed to tell them to leave, but the protestors can be sued if they come on to the private property.

Gray decided to open the clinic in Tuscaloosa in 1973 to eliminate dangerous “back-alley” abortions, or those performed by either the pregnant woman herself or an underground, unlicensed doctor.

“I saw the need for it [an abortion center], I saw the real side and the struggle, and I also love children. I hate to see children born that are unwanted. People who stand there and protest don’t see that,” Gray said

“We’ve had all kinds of patients get upset…They ask us to prevent them from being there, but we have no control, we’re helpless,” Gray said, frustration in her voice. “We never try to stop them from talking to them, but we don’t like harassment.”

“[Being outside the center] It’s almost like being immersed in a culture war, you heavily feel the magnitude of the issue,” said Anthony Berry, a UA freshman and anti-abortion “sidewalk counselor,” meaning someone who stands in the public property right along the clinic’s privately owned parking lot and offers anti-abortion information to women.

On April 25 the anti-abortion people stood along the road in their usual spot with what Gray refers to as “R-rated” signs depicting fetuses. Many of these people are part of the Bama Students for Life, a UA “Pro-life” group created in 2006. Almost every Saturday, and even some Fridays, they wait for women walking into the West Alabama Women’s Center, usually there to make abortion appointments, and actively encourage them to consider other options. They also pray for the women.

Meanwhile another group of about eight volunteer students also spend their Saturdays at the West Alabama Women’s Center. They stand waiting in bright yellow vests to “escort” women to the building entrance, sometimes chanting or talking over the “sidewalk counselors” so as to distract them from the anti-abortion people.

Claire Chretien, president of Bama Students for Life, said that “it would be unfair to not offer love and compassion to these people facing crisis,” but Gray insists their tactics are a form of “emotional bullying. We are here to provide a legal service. We don’t encourage or promote abortion.”

Gray said their clinic has seen an increase in people needing care in recent months.

The Planned Parenthood Center located in Birmingham recently closed, leaving only Tuscaloosa’s West Alabama Women Center and Huntsville’s Alabama Women’s Center open. Without Birmingham as an option, the residents of Jefferson County have been driving to Tuscaloosa’s center, along with people from as far away as Mississippi and Virginia.

The anti-abortion vs. pro-choice controversy has been heated since 1973 when Roe vs. Wade made abortion a legal option for women in the U.S. The West Alabama Women’s Center is one of two, out of a former five, abortion clinics still operating since Governor Robert Bentley recently signed the Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers, or TRAP. The law requires all doctors to have state licenses, but due lack of support by physicians in Alabama, along with many other states, the clinics which have previously depended on out-of-state licensed doctors have been forced to close.

The Tuscaloosa center has one Board Certified Ob-Gyn Physician, who also has local privileges, so the law won’t be a problem for Tuscaloosa. But the Birmingham, Montgomery and Mobile clinics weren’t so fortunate. Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union quickly filed a lawsuit against the new Alabama law.

According to the Huffington Post’s nationwide survey of state health departments, abortion clinics and local abortion-focused advocacy groups, at least 54 abortion clinics in 27 states have shut down in the past three years.

This has not been the case for crisis pregnancy centers throughout the U.S., which are anti-abortion clinics offering pregnancy tests, ultra-sounds and helpful alternatives to abortions for mothers. Some pro-choice activists call these centers “fake abortion clinics,” which is sometimes what people mistake them for., a recourse website for mothers to “save babies lives through God’s grace,” lists 38 different Crisis Pregnancy Centers in Alabama. One of those, Sav-A-Life, is located on University Boulevard, but is soon to take its new location in the building a mere twenty feet from the West Alabama Women’s Center.

The location of the building is strategically placed so that women getting an abortion might change their mind and go there instead, said Amy Hase, a UA student and the upcoming president for Bama Students for Life. “This [standing outside the clinic] is a big part of the pro-life movement, but not everyone believes in it,” she said as she stood in the parking lot beside a man in Tuscaloosa who held a poster of a fetus that had statements like “I have fingers and toes” and “My heart is beating.”

Despite the fact that anti-abortion people protest the West Alabama Women’s Center every week, Sav-A-Life has never been protested by pro-choice believers. The group of pro-choice escorts agreed that if the anti-abortion “protestors” were to stop bothering the clinic and “let women choose for themselves,” they wouldn’t need to be out there anymore.

The ethical question lingers for countless individuals all over the world: Is defending the right of an unborn baby saving a life or taking away a woman’s right to have control of her own body? Although they often get yelled at to go away by parents, boyfriends and the clinic escorts, Chretien said they were able to save six people from getting an abortion during 40 Days for Life,” a national anti-abortion campaign, one where in Tuscaloosa the “sidewalk counselors” stand by the clinic for some period of time for 40 days straight.

“Every, I mean every, woman is here for a different reason,” Gray said heavy-heartedly, not specifying the thousands of backstories of women over the last 21 years.  Each case is individual and unique.

On the other hand, Chretien said “this is the greatest human rights injustice of the time,” and commented that she knew this battle was a long-term fight.  She argues that taking the life of a developing fetus equals taking the life of a 2-year-old.

Samaria Johnson, who volunteers as an escort at the West Alabama Women’s Center, contends that a developing fetus is not yet an individual.

“I can agree to disagree with people on abortion, but I absolutely cannot agree with someone who stands outside of abortion clinics,” Johnson said. “When people are engaging in emotional manipulation, then we have real problem. Abortion is a neutral—it can be used for good or bad.”

Bama Students for Life use many different tactics for educating people on their beliefs. Chretien said no matter what the situation—rape, carelessness, accidents—that the fetus is still a human and in her opinion, abortion morally unjustified and wrong. Although she said that her heart absolutely breaks for those people in those situations or in tough circumstances, there are other options for every woman.

Gray said the people out there on Saturday mornings have “nothing to do with what we do in here medically” and that the West Alabama Women’s Center is a legal, certified practice. It is supposed to a “safe place” for financially, emotionally or physically unprepared pregnant women. But mere steps outside of the private property has transformed into a morally-armed battlefield, protesting for the right to life of the fetus.

The natural consequence of sex, of course, it that it produces babies. Abortion cost anywhere from $300-$700 dollars. Child support is almost $100,000 during a child’s minority, according to the 2010 Census Bureau Reports. Johnson and many pro-choice advocates believe that sex education is something seriously undermined in this country, which only adds to the problem, while Chretien said it has led to higher abortion rates in places like Washington, and she would prefer to see biology and fetus development studied in schools instead.

“I think simply that an unwanted pregnancy results in an unwanted child,” Gray said.

Abortion is not a moral-free question for anyone, but the legality of it is a state-protected matter.

On the other hand, freedom of assembly is also covered by the First Amendment. Anti-abortion advocates can “peaceably protest,” although throughout the U.S., clinics have been experiencing episodes of violence from both “sidewalk counselors,” and those who they address. “Buffer-zone laws” continue to pop up around the country, forcing the anti-abortion activists to stay a certain number of feet away from the clinic and women.

Another recent law passed in Alabama states that abortion patients must wait 48 hours after their appointment before their abortion can be performed, when it was previously only 24 hours. While Chretien calls this a “common-sense law,” this also forces the influx of out-of-town women or couples to spend more money that they potentially don’t have on transportation, a place to stay and food for the two days. The law is meant to make women truly consider their decision to have an abortion, but for the people who are choosing to not have the baby due to financial reasons, this doubles the amount of money they must spend, and thus acts as another block towards women’s right to terminate a pregnancy.

According to “About Abortion Clinics Online,” each year more than 1.5 million women have pregnancies terminated. At the same time, according to the U.S. State Department, U.S. families adopted the highest number of children from China, followed by Ethiopia, Russia, South Korea, and Ukraine. According to, it’s easier and faster to adopt children internationally than in the U.S.

“For me that’s definitely something I struggle with, one of the things that is ironic is a lot of our lawmakers don’t necessarily advocate for things that would help people in those situations,” Berry said. Having a good adoption system and social welfare is important.

“I’ve had an epiphany of some sort as I’ve gone through the year, [sidewalk counseling] it’s not something I personally feel comfortable with,” Berry shared. I prefer one-on-one conversation—I’m not a controversial person.”

The state of Alabama has no current buffer laws, although it’s in the process of considering one, the buffer zone in Tuscaloosa is due to the fact that it’s private property. The police have ticketed the “sidewalk counselors” several times, and the clinic escorts line at least one car in the parking lot attempting to block them off. The anti-abortion people also stand along the side of the road so that cars driving by can see their signs. The “escorts” and the pro-life demonstrators sometimes get into verbal clashes.

Cody Fredrick, a UA junior and a clinic escort almost every Saturday, along with Johnson and the others, said one particular local Bible-carrying “protestor” asks the women, before and after their procedure, “how they feel about murdering their baby. I think the buffer zone is the most important thing that happened out here. If we’re going to accept that protest is going to be a thing that happens, then it needs limits.”

“It’s my body, it should be my choice. I feel like people shouldn’t be out here telling you you’re going to hell, it’s already hard to do it,” Jamey Julian said.

“They say they do it out of love, but there’s no truth in this statement. It’s intimidation and hatred; I’m not sure what motivates them,” Gray said.

Dr. Payne, the physician, along with Grey, get frequent death threats, although they don’t know who they’re from.

The Sav-A-Life will change its location to beside the West Alabama’s Women Center in the upcoming months. The concern from the escorts is whether this will further escalate the current problem.

The West Alabama Women’s Clinic will keep offering services Monday through Saturday.

A federal judge has set the trial date for the lawsuit against U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson for May 19. The outcome will determine if the law was passed to set up definite obstacles aiding the limitation for a woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy. Meanwhile, Tuscaloosa will continue to be flooded with out-of-town women seeking reproductive care.

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