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Alabama's abortion laws didn't deter one site from offering reproductive health care

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Since the only clinic that performs abortions in Montgomery, Ala., shut down last month, an organization next door has been threading a legal needle to offer reproductive health care. Some patients come from hundreds of miles away. Alabama law now limits abortion to cases where the mother's health is in danger, with no exceptions for rape or incest. Troy Public Radio's Kyle Gassiott reports.

KYLE GASSIOTT, BYLINE: Next door to Montgomery's shuttered clinic that provided abortions is an organization called The POWER House. It's in an old southern home with a big front porch. It seems idyllic until you see the camouflage netting strung between the pillars to hide anyone sitting on the porch in the big wicker chairs. Mia Raven is the executive director.

MIA RAVEN: If you don't know my name, you know I'm probably the abortion lady. That's what people call me if they don't know my name.

GASSIOTT: Raven has a tattoo on her wrist that reads, know your rights. She has neon pink hair, and she has another nickname from her years of advocacy for reproductive rights in Alabama.

RAVEN: The pink-haired devil lady (laughter) - that's what the protesters called me.

GASSIOTT: Raven has been protecting women seeking abortions from protesters for years. In 2015, she was working as an escort at the Reproductive Health Clinic in Montgomery when she heard that an evangelical Christian group opposed to abortion rights planned to rent the house right next door.

RAVEN: And just put one foot on the curb between the POWER House and the clinic.

GASSIOTT: On a recent morning, Raven paced off the distance in the parking lot between the two buildings to show just how close they are.

How far is that between here and there?

RAVEN: Maybe 40, 45 feet, I think.

GASSIOTT: She remembers thinking back in 2015 about how close protesters would be able to get to patients if abortion opponents moved in.

RAVEN: They could stand on the property line and literally reach out and touch the hood of a patient's car.

GASSIOTT: The idea of that happening was untenable to Raven. So she worked to convince the landlord of a house next to the clinic to rent it to her, which he did. And she founded the POWER House. Raven moved her patient escort operations there and recruited more volunteers to get people from their cars to their abortion appointments. Protesters would often yell at them and sometimes take their picture, but at least they were a safe distance away. Raven shared this recording of what it sounded like most days.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Hey, Mia. You doing all right? You need to repent and turn to Jesus. Stop being evil and wicked, ma'am.

RAVEN: Our protesters are a special kind of ugly. And it's just hard.

GASSIOTT: She developed a thick skin, but it was tough on patients. Raven and her staff developed tactics to shield patients, like using giant umbrellas.

RAVEN: It's kind of like an umbrella dance, like a ballet dance, if you will, just the way you walk with the umbrellas to shield that patient as much as you can.

GASSIOTT: They also wore rainbow-colored vests that are actually copyrighted so patients could distinguish them from protesters. Now that Alabama's abortion ban is in effect and the clinic is closed, most of the protesters are gone. With no patients to escort, the POWER House has changed its mission.

RAVEN: So just EC and condoms and...

GASSIOTT: Raven takes an order from a young woman in her car in the POWER House parking lot - EC, or emergency contraceptives, and condoms.

RAVEN: I'll grab the condoms for you.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Thank you.

GASSIOTT: Raven calls this new drive-through service pro-choice assistance.

RAVEN: We have Plan B. We have condoms, latex and non-latex. We have pregnancy tests. We have urine strips. We have water-based lube, and we also have hand sanitizer.

GASSIOTT: The POWER House can provide all of this for free because donations are up since the Supreme Court ruling. In the first few days of the service earlier this month, POWER House volunteers handed out reproductive health supplies, including 28 packs of Plan B, 70 pregnancy tests and two dozen sheets that list the states where abortion is available. Raven's lawyer says that's all they can do. In between cars, Raven reflects on the death threats and bomb scares she's experienced over the years in order to help women.

RAVEN: And I used to joke that I never wanted to go through that again in my life. But if it meant that the clinic could be open and seeing patients as it always had, I would do it every single day.

GASSIOTT: And she says she'll continue to do it every single day as long as women need reproductive care.

For NPR News, I'm Kyle Gassiott in Montgomery. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kyle Gassiott