Meet the Alabama Doctor Who Could Face 99 Years for Providing Abortions

Alabama Governor Kay Ivey signed the nation’s most restrictive abortion ban into law on Wednesday, effectively banning the procedure except in cases where a pregnant person’s life is at serious risk. The law does not make exceptions in cases of rape or incest and doctors could face 99 years in prison for performing abortions. We speak with Dr. Yashica Robinson, the medical director of the Alabama Women’s Center for Reproductive Alternatives, one of only three clinics left in the state that offer patients abortion services. She is one of only two abortion providers living and working in Alabama. Under the new Alabama law, she could spend the rest of her life in prison for doing her job.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, Democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. The assault on reproductive rights continues to ratchet up as legislatures and Republican governors around the country pass increasingly restrictive abortion laws. On Wednesday, Alabama Governor Kay Ivey signed the nation’s most restrictive abortion ban into law, effectively banning the procedure except in cases where a pregnant person’s life is at serious risk. The law does not make exceptions in cases of rape or incest and doctors could face up to life in prison for performing abortions.

Last week, Georgia enacted a law banning abortion when a fetal heartbeat can be detected, which often occurs at around six weeks into pregnancy, before many people even realize they are pregnant. Similar bills have also been passed in Iowa, Kentucky, North Dakota, Ohio and Mississippi. Just yesterday, Missouri’s Republican-led Senate passed a bill banning abortions at eight weeks of pregnancy. Reproductive rights groups are challenging these laws in court. For now, the bans have either been blocked or have not yet gone into effect.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi responded to the abortion ban in Alabama Thursday and warned the country is heading down a dangerous path.

HOUSE SPEAKER NANCY PELOSI: Republicans at the same time have been dismantling and sabotaging and continuing their attacks on healthcare, and now for women specifically, as we have seen in Alabama. Heartbreaking and unconstitutional assault on basic reproductive freedoms. It’s really — I don’t want to be a fear-monger, but I do believe that they are trying to go on a path that will totally dismantle Roe v. Wade, and we have to be vigilant and express our concerns on this legislatively and at the grassroots level.

AMY GOODMAN: The architects and supporters of the bills are actually welcoming a court battle in the hopes the fight will land in the Supreme Court and lead to the overturning of Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 Supreme Court ruling that recognizes the constitutional right to an abortion.

For more, we go to Huntsville, Alabama, where we’re joined by Dr. Yashica Robinson. Dr. Robinson is the medical director of the Alabama Women’s Center for Reproductive Alternatives, one of only three clinics left in Alabama that offer patients abortion services. She is one of only two abortion providers living and working in Alabama. Under the new Alabama law, she could spend the rest of her life in prison for doing her job. Dr. Yashica Robinson, welcome to Democracy Now! Thank you so much for taking this time out of your busy schedule. First, respond to the passage of the almost total abortion ban in Alabama.

DR. YASHICA ROBINSON: Well, thank you for having me. With the passage of the near-total ban on abortion here in Alabama, the initial response has just been very disheartening. I have seen many patients that have expressed anger, a lot of concern about how this is going to affect access to care. And as a provider, I’m very concerned about how this will affect the care that I am able to provide for my patients.

AMY GOODMAN: How will it affect — now, it has not gone into effect. It would be six months. And it’s obviously going to be challenged in court. Talk about — I mean, right now, if this were next year and the ban were in effect — Governor Ivey has signed off on it. You could go to jail for the rest of your life for performing the procedure.

DR. YASHICA ROBINSON: Yes. That means that I will have to choose between my freedom and staying out of jail and doing what is best for my patients. And that is going to be something that will make it more difficult for physicians to choose to come to this area. Alabama is an area that already have a lack of physicians and lack of resources as far as care for patients. We already have women that are traveling further and further to access the care that they need. And with the fear of criminal prosecution, there is no incentive for women or physicians who provide women’s healthcare to come to this area. There is no physician that would want to have to choose between their own freedom and doing what is best for the patient.

From our standpoint, it puts us in a catch-22. If we conform to the law and abide by the law, we could still be faced with litigation from patients and their families if they are harmed. This would put us in a situation where we could be forced to let patients get near death, get very sick or ill, and potentially be harmed before we could proceed comfortably with doing what’s best for women. With that being said, the exception for health reasons is not adequate. It’s not appropriate when it comes to abortion access.

AMY GOODMAN: Would you perform abortions anyway if this law were put into effect in Alabama?

DR. YASHICA ROBINSON: Well, as a women’s health provider, I understand how important abortion access is. I’m going to always conform to the law. So with that being said, I may be forced to travel to other areas to provide care for patients. But my hope would be that we can change the law to be sure that women continue to have access here in Alabama. Because otherwise, that means I will have to travel to be sure that women have access and to be able to continue to practice my trade and do what I feel so strongly is necessary for women. And that means that women will have to travel further and further. We already have patients that don’t have an abortion clinic in their area. We have patients that are driving six and eight hours to get to us now. So if Alabama continues to go down this path, it is going to place another obstacle in the way of women. And we already face so many obstacles when it comes to healthcare here in the South.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to turn to Alabama Democratic State Senator Vivian Figures, one of just four women in the Alabama State Senate, confronting Republican Senator Clyde Chambliss on the State Senate floor as lawmakers debated the bill.

STATE SEN. VIVIAN FIGURES: Do you know what it’s like to be raped?

STATE SEN. CLYDE CHAMBLISS: No, ma’am, I don’t.

STATE SEN. VIVIAN FIGURES: Do you know what it’s like to have a relative commit incest on you?

STATE SEN. CLYDE CHAMBLISS: On me, no ma’am.

STATE SEN. VIVIAN FIGURES: Yes, on you. OK. So that’s one of those traumas that a person experiences, just like that child experienced. And to take that choice away from that person who had such a traumatic act committed against them, to be left with the residue of that person, if you will, to have to bring that child into this world and be reminded of that every single day.

AMY GOODMAN: Alabama State Senator Figures also introduced an amendment that would criminalize vasectomies, arguing there are no laws regulating men’s bodies. It was defeated. But talk about this, Dr. Yashica Robinson, that this abortion ban was passed with no exception for rape or incest.

DR. YASHICA ROBINSON: First of all, just her words and just asking the other representative about how he would feel or does he know what that feels like, she tried to bring it home, to bring a human aspect to it. And I appreciate that. And his response, saying that he didn’t know what it was like, but still it was very clear that he was in support of this bill, was very troubling.

As an abortion provider, I understand that there are so many personal and medical reasons that go into why women choose abortion. And there is no way that we can know all of the personal things that are complicating a woman’s life and that’s affecting that decision, just as this senator said.

But for him to still be in support of the bill, I feel like that was — it was like an insult on women, an insult on healthcare. It was very clear that it didn’t matter to them how this affected women. The only thing that was important was them achieving their political agenda. And it is just sad for women in Alabama. It’s very sad.

AMY GOODMAN: You face more time in prison than a rapist. You would face life in prison — 99 years in prison, Dr. Robinson.

DR. YASHICA ROBINSON: Yes. And the only thing that I can say — it’s just really — for me as a provider, it causes a lot of anger. When you look at other areas of medicine, there is no other area of medicine where we have legislation like this that threatens the physician with criminal prosecution for simply doing their job. There is no other area of medicine that is regulated in such a way. And then to have physicians to potentially be penalized with more time in prison than even a rapist is appalling. It’s simply appalling. And we know that this is not about what’s best for women. It’s more about our representatives and their personal moral objection to abortion care.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Yashica Robinson, can you describe your day? You spend a lot of time delivering babies as an obstetrician/gynecologist.

DR. YASHICA ROBINSON: Yes. I made the decision that I wanted to be a women’s health provider, and what that means is that I have a commitment to taking care of women throughout their pregnancies. I deliver babies. I provide prenatal care. But I do understand that pregnant women, they will choose to have deliveries and sometimes they may have to make the decision that that pregnancy will have to end in an abortion. And I understand that that is just part of healthcare and one of the essential services that women will need. And I respect that decision. And I’m happy to be with women no matter — and be supportive of them no matter what that decision is for their pregnancy.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the protests you face outside your clinic? How difficult is that for the women going inside, making some very difficult decisions?

DR. YASHICA ROBINSON: We already know that sometimes for women, making the decision to have an abortion can be very difficult. They have already wrestled with this prior to even presenting to our clinic. And then for their decision to be questioned once again, for them to be judged when they come in for care that they know is necessary for them at the time? It’s just something that women shouldn’t face.

And with me being someone who also takes care of women throughout their pregnancy, just because of other people’s objection to abortion care and the fact that I am willing to take care of women here in the South in whatever way they need, my patients who come to the general obstetrics and gynecological practice, they are also faced with the same harassment. I mean, I have women who come in at eight and nine months pregnant who have protesters screaming and yelling at them. That should never happen.

It makes me think of a story where I had a young lady who came in. She was pregnant. She was in her third trimester. She came in just for a routine prenatal visit. And unfortunately, at the time that we evaluated her, we found she had already had a fetal demise. Her baby had already died in utero. This was a very desired pregnancy. And even that young lady, as she left to go to the hospital knowing that she would deliver that day and that her baby was no longer alive, she still faced the same harassment.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to talk to you about you facing life in prison for performing abortions if the ban went into effect, but also facing the endangerment of your own life. In this country, a number of doctors and health practitioners have been killed for providing abortion. Do you fear for your own life, for your family’s life?

DR. YASHICA ROBINSON: I think about my safety and I take necessary precautions as much as I can. But if I’m focused more on fear of harm to myself, I can’t be focused on my patients in the way that I need. And in medicine, it is so important that you keep your head in the game, that you’re focused on the person that is in front of you. We have to make split-second decisions all the time. And so I try my very best not to be distracted by that.

I am a very spiritual person. I pray. I believe that the work that I am doing is — I believe that I’m here because — I feel that God put me here for reason because there are so many women that need me. And so because I understand that I’m doing work that I am supposed to be doing, I feel that I’m going to be protected. And if there comes a day that I am harmed because of it, it’s a decision and a sacrifice that I know is necessary. And I guess I’ve just made the decision that I’m willing to accept that.

AMY GOODMAN: You have made a lot of very remarkable decisions in your own life. Can you talk about growing up in Alabama, having your kids at a very young age and how you fought to get an education and become a doctor?

DR. YASHICA ROBINSON: Yes. I come from a background — a very humble background. I did have my first son prior to finishing high school. Being a teen mother was part of my motivation for going into obstetrics and gynecology. There are so many women here in the South that face very similar situations. The teen pregnancy rate here is very high. I understand that education is one of those things that will help to bring us out of the poverty that can sometimes be associated with becoming a mom so early.

And I felt that women in similar situations needed to see someone that comes from a background just like theirs who has been able to come out of that to continue to achieve goals, to not be ashamed of the decisions that we have made and just to be motivated by that. Because it is so easy for people to tell you, “you can do it,” but if they see someone that looks like them, that comes from where they have come from, that has been able to do it also, I think that gives them extra motivation.

AMY GOODMAN: So you had two children when you were still in your teens — your two boys. Can you talk about then deciding — what made you decide to go into medicine?

DR. YASHICA ROBINSON: Well, one of the main things that motivated me was that when you become pregnant early in life, a lot of people tend to talk down to you. I experienced a lot of criticism and negative comments. And it was just important for me to be able to show them that, you know, the decision that I made early on, the circumstances of my life don’t really dictate what I can do. And I also wanted to be ableÑI wanted my children to not be ashamed of the fact that I did become a mom so early. There are a lot of things that go into why young ladies in situations like mine end up pregnant early on.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Yashica Robinson, in the State Senate when this bill was passed, it was 25 white men who passed this bill. Can you talk about the impact of this on women in Alabama, but particularly on women of color like yourself?

DR. YASHICA ROBINSON: Well, the impact of it is that it’s going — we know that legislation like this affects women of color and those women from lower socioeconomic status the most. We know that those that have means will always have access to the care that they need. And so the patients that I serve, those are going to be the ones that are most affected by this decision.

And then to see that the representatives that voted in favor of this, none of them look like us. None of them represented us. It was all men, none of whom will ever know what it’s like to carry a pregnancy or to have to make a hard decision to end a pregnancy. None of them were people of color that even know some of the things that we go through. Coming from a background where you don’t always have the finances that you need for just basic things in life and how that can really play a part in you having to make the decision not to have another baby. Just looking at the picture of those that voted for this bill was enough to cause outrage for women, and especially women of color.

AMY GOODMAN: According to CDC, Alabama has one of the highest infant mortality rates in the country. It recorded 7.4 infant deaths per 1,000 live births in 2017, the fifth highest rate in the U.S. The national average is like 5.8 deaths per 1,000. The year before, Alabama had the country’s worst infant mortality rate with 9.1 deaths per 1,000 live births. The significance of this, Dr. Robinson?

DR. YASHICA ROBINSON: Well, Alabama has so many things that we can address to make things better for women and babies. We have a very high maternal and infant mortality rate, and a lot of that stems from the fact that women do not have access to the healthcare that they need. Many patients are not able to access healthcare or even obtain insurance until they become pregnant. Many women will only qualify for Medicaid during their pregnancies.

And as a physician, I know that optimizing their health prior to pregnancy would be best for both the patient and for her baby. Conditions that would be easy for you to understand is like patients that have hypertension and diabetes. If we could optimize those things prior to a pregnancy, then we would have better outcomes as it relates to maternal and infant health. However, we have lawmakers that are focused on placing more restrictions on women’s access to healthcare as opposed to focusing on ways to make access better.

AMY GOODMAN: Your final thoughts, speaking to us from Alabama, the state that might be really the testing ground for what happens at the Supreme Court, the idea that this essentially a virtual ban on all abortion could make its way to the Supreme Court, and possibly in the climate of the Supreme Court overturn Roe v. Wade. That it started in AlabamaÑyour thoughts, Dr. Yashica Robinson, as one of only two Alabama-based doctors who are performing abortion right now?

DR. YASHICA ROBINSON: My thoughts is — Alabama, when it comes to the things that are really important, we can be last at so many things. Like you said, our infant mortality rate, our maternal mortality rate, our cervical cancer rates are very high. And this is the one thing that we want to be first in? It’s not something that we want to brag about.

My desire is to live in a society where women have access to the care that they need, where even insurance covers women for abortion care, and that having access to essential healthcare is not based off your ZIP Code. And so I just still remain hopeful and just hope that as we move forward, that we can look to do what’s best for women and that we can achieve that ideal society.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Yashica Robinson, we thank you so much for spending this time with us. Dr. Robinson is the medical director of the Alabama Women’s Center for Reproductive Alternatives, one of only three clinics left in Alabama that offer patients abortion services. Be safe.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, people talk about what would a post-Roe country look like? Well, many abortion providers, women’s rights activists say actually in many parts of the country, it looks like what is happening today around the country, even when Roe v. Wade is legal. Stay with us.