Local women's center provides some comfort after the end of Roe v. Wade

·6 min read

Jul. 29—Alison Bates stands inside a room full of baby clothes, pushing through the racks of the Baby Boutique at Hope Women's Services of Anniston.

Her 6-month-old infant son was born at a time when Bates had been attempting to piece her life back together.

As a participant of the "Baby Basics" program at Hope, Bates has been provided with everything she needs for her son: diapers, wipes, clothes, lotions, soaps, everything.

As laws rapidly change and women in some states find themselves compelled by law to carry and give birth to a child, women in Calhoun County have scrambled to find comfort in programs such as these.

The agency's executive director, Michelle Payne, said the number of women they serve has tripled in the last year alone, with 85 currently enrolled in its program. The center has two locations, one in Anniston at 1412 Leighton and another in Jacksonville, 301 Henry Rd. SW.

Alabama's current laws on abortion penalize the performer of the abortion rather than the mother, and it has a "lone exeption" that allows medical abortion in the event that the mother's life is at risk, Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall recently told the Alabama News Network.

The law does not include Plan B or birth control as part of the ban, and those products are available under the current law. However, other medicines that might have abortive effects, but that are not specifically designed for that effect, are not protected. For example, the cancer treatment drug methotrexate has an abortive effect, and the drug chain CVS Health recently announced that it would be asking pharmacists in several states to verify through the prescriber that the prescription would not be used to end a pregnancy.

In addition to the pharmaceutical confusion, Marshall recently joined 16 other attorneys general from various states in a face-off with Google, warning the company not to block crisis pregnancy centers from its search engines, according

to a recent press release from Marshall's office.

The release said that "such discriminatory conduct could open the company to investigations for antitrust violations and religious discrimination."

Other women, such as Mercy Pilkington, worry that the current law does not explicitly protect her 20-year-old mentally disabled daughter. Pilkington explained that if her daughter were to become pregnant, she would not have the mental capacity to care for a child.

Another medication that pregnant women cannot take is the depression medication Wellbutrin, according to Pilkington. Where that concerns Pilkington and her daughter, she said, is if the medicine her daughter takes for her mental illness or mental disabilities comes under the same scrutiny that the cancer treatment drug has.

"Do we get a doctor going 'I'm sorry, she can't take this anymore'?" Pilkington said.

Each year, Pilkington has to go to court to declare herself as her daughter's legal guardian, as the younger woman is in fact a child in legal terms. Pilkington says the law is unclear on whether it protects the disabled from abortions, and worries that by the time she could get around all the legal red tape, it would be too late to perform an abortion at all.

With all the uncertainty, Payne and pregnancy crisis centers such as Hope offer some comfort to women in need.

"Honestly, no matter what would have happened with the Roe V. Wade decision, we still would have opened the next day serving women for free," Payne said.

Although some maintain that those who are "pro-life" do not care about the life of the baby after it's born, Payne said centers such as these are tangible proof that range of care does indeed exist.

"When moms and dads walk into either of our centers, they are literally surrounded by room after room of tangible evidence that our pro-abundant-life community truly cares for moms, dads and their precious babies," Payne said.

The newly purchased office was fully funded by private donations, complete with a lab for pregnancy testing, several rooms for their various counseling services, a room fully equipped for ultrasounds with a licensed sonographer on staff, and a large room full of what they call the baby boutique.

"It's been really incredible. The community has come together and just put a whole lot into this, because we knew we would be serving more women than ever before, and we wanted to be ready for that," Payne said.

The major fundraiser for the center, Payne said is the "Baby Bottle Boomerang." The organization sends out thousands of bottles every year with the center's information in it, and people can return the bottles with change, checks or cash.

"It's our biggest fundraiser by far. We've been doing it for years now and we just passed $70,000 for this year. So, it's just a huge way to keep the doors open so we can serve women totally free," Payne said.

The women who use the Hope Women's Services don't pay for any of their services.

Bates, 32, of Oxford, explained that when a mom enters the baby basics program, they're assigned classes to attend. The staff monitors their progress in the classes and for every class taken, the moms can earn baby bucks to use in the baby boutique.

"Since my son has been born, and he just turned 6 months old, I haven't had to buy one diaper," Bates said. "You have to put in the work by watching the parenting classes, but the parenting classes are actually really informative."

When Bates first arrived in Oxford, she was fleeing from an abusive relationship with her two children. She left her home in Northern Alabama with nothing but a diaper bag and some clothing for her and her children. With no car and staying with her mother, Bates walked to work for seven months until she could raise enough to buy a mode of transportation.

From there, she finished college, enrolled into a nursing program and began piecing her life back together. "During all this, trying to rebuild my life and trying to provide a stable home for my kids, I got pregnant again," Bates said. "I didn't know what to do because I don't have any help. It's just me and my mom down here."

Feeling totally alone, she heard about the Hope Women's Services from a family friend.

The level of care given in the program is the best part, Bates said.

"I think the main thing is just knowing that I wasn't alone in it and that I didn't need to feel ashamed, because it was an unplanned pregnancy," Bates said. "There's no shame that you don't have a husband or don't have support or you're low income or you're on food stamps. There's no judgment."

Bates said staff members make the mothers feel like they're glad they came. And it's not just for Christian or religious women, Bates said. When doing the sign-up process, the women are asked what religious denomination they are. Bates said the staff greets each client as a person and builds goals towards meeting the individual's needs, rather than just a revolving door of patients.

"When you come in with good news, or something that's happened that you're proud of, they're excited for you," Bates said, adding she felt a genuine connection with the staff.