'I won't lay down on this': Ky. lawyer goes viral for offering free legal help after abortion ruling

·National Reporter and Producer
·4 min read

A lawyer from a small town in eastern Kentucky has joined the fight to protect reproductive rights, a move she didn’t quite expect until she went viral on Twitter — for offering free legal services.

On June 24, Michelle Lawson tweeted, “​​I will provide pro Bono services to women in Kentucky if they are prosecuted for providing or obtaining an abortion,” a message she sent out the same day the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, ruling that abortion is no longer a constitutional right and allowing states to determine the legality of the procedure.

The response to Lawson’s offer comes as pro-abortion advocates and those opposed to the court’s ruling are launching efforts nationwide to ensure that abortion access remains widely available.

Kentucky is one of the more than a dozen states with so-called trigger laws, which take effect and ban or severely restrict abortion with the repeal of Roe. The state passed the Human Life Protection Act in 2019, which went into effect on Friday after the ruling. The state law prohibits abortions in most circumstances, and no person may knowingly cause or aid people in “the termination of the life of an unborn human being.”

The law was temporarily halted Thursday by a judge after pro-abortion-rights groups banded together to fight it in court. Close to 200 women with appointments at a Louisville clinic had been turned away since the Supreme Court’s ruling, but now the procedures have been allowed to resume.

Attorney Michelle Lawson.
Attorney Michelle Lawson. (Courtesy: Michelle Lawson)

Lawson, a Hazard, Ky.-based attorney, expected a few people who might have needed her services to reach out, but she didn’t expect to get 13,000 retweets and more than 35,000 likes on her post. She was “surprised” by the response.

“For me, I think when you have national news like this come out, you have the feeling that there's really not anything that you can do because you're just one person and it sort of feels overwhelming,” she told Yahoo News.

“And for me, I knew I had this law degree and I wanted to say, ‘Hey, what is something that I can offer that would help in this time?’ And so that's when I made the tweet, thinking that maybe a handful of people would see it and reach out for help and then it grew into this much bigger thing.”

An anti-abortion protester recites a Bible passage while clinic escorts stand nearby at the EMW Women's Surgical Center in Louisville days after the Kentucky state legislature enacted a sweeping anti-abortion law, on April 16.
An anti-abortion protester recites a Bible passage while clinic escorts stand nearby at the EMW Women's Surgical Center in Louisville days after the Kentucky state legislature enacted a sweeping anti-abortion law, on April 16. (Jonathan Cherry/Reuters)

Lawson, who received a political science bachelor's degree before graduating from law school at the University of Kentucky, said her tweet caught the attention of fellow attorneys, with some reaching out to offer their help.

“It feels amazing to be able to make these connections with other attorneys and hopefully create a larger network of attorneys who are willing to take these kinds of cases, and that's my goal going forward.”

Lawson has spent her years in family law working with domestic violence victims, adoption court, juvenile court and divorce court, she said. Now she’s jumping into this new lane because she’s “angry” with the decision.

She and other lawyers across the country aren’t the only ones offering free services to help women in need. Elevated Access, an Illinois-based squadron of volunteer pilots, offers flights for people seeking health care services like abortions in states where it’s legal. A couple of weeks ago, the organization flew its first patient from Oklahoma, the state known for the strictest abortion ban to date, to Kansas City, Mo., where the woman was able to undergo a procedure, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Abortion-rights protesters chant and display signs during a march in dissent of the Supreme Court's decision in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health case on June 24, in Louisville, Ky.
Abortion-rights protesters chant and display signs during a march in dissent of the Supreme Court's decision in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health case on June 24, in Louisville, Ky. (Jon Cherry/Getty Images)

In addition, some major corporations acted quickly after the decision, including Dick’s Sporting Goods, Disney, Amazon and Apple, announcing that they will help employees financially who might need to travel to another state to receive a legal abortion. Many others have since followed suit.

As for Lawson, she’s taking the Supreme Court’s decision personally: “I was trying to get pregnant, and at this point, it's terrifying. The thought, you know, that 'What if something happens to me?' It could happen to any of us, and I think we all know that and we want to move away from being scared. [We] feel like we’re being stripped of our rights and … we feel like we are medically in danger, and I won't lay down on this.”