For half a century, abortion rights have been in force in the United States. Then comes US President Trump and turns the Supreme Court upside down. The Republicans got their own boomerang in the midterms. That doesn't help the women in the country at the moment.
He used to want to pray with the visitors to the abortion clinic. At some point this morning he just yelled through his microphone up the parking lot in the direction of the building. He claims he is doing this on behalf of God. He, this is Jason Cantrell, professional anti-abortion advocate. Three times a week, whenever patients come, the self-appointed preacher and his followers are also there. He accuses some women who want to go to the Feminist Women's Health Center in northwest Atlanta of murder or wishes them to hell.
But every now and then he whispers through the microphone. "You don't have to do it, ma'am," he calls after a woman in a video on his website toward the entrance. "You can come down here and talk, we'll help you with anything you need." Those who can be persuaded will be rewarded with a blessing bag, a "blessed bag" with baby utensils: a onesie with "God loves me" printed on it, a diaper, a few Bible verses. Jason Cantrell calls clinics like the Feminist Center "abortion factories" of the "bloody city." For years he has lived mainly from the donations that his followers and sympathizers leave to him.
This is told by June Talita, who works at the non-profit clinic and has known the preacher for several years. She and her colleagues fight for women's rights here almost every day. "Since February 2020 he's gone completely nuts, it's impossible to talk to him," she says this Saturday. June's real name is different, but she doesn't want her real name published because of fanatical abortion opponents. "That's the enemy," she says urgently. "He is unpredictable." In order to arm herself, she studies the demonstrators in great detail. Jason Cantrell is no stranger anyway. 25 years ago he and his accomplices burned down a church that black people went to. He had to go to prison for ten years. He came out again as a preacher. Words are not always enough for him.
Abortion rights were universal in the United States for half a century. Over the decades, a veritable macrocosm has formed around the great goal of the conservatives to abolish it, which has turned over millions and millions of dollars. Their savior was Donald Trump, because he allied himself with the religious right, became president, and kept his promises. He appointed chief justices who are ideologically aligned for life. They overturned the Roe vs. Wade precedent in July. The states can now decide for themselves. Legal chaos reigns, but one thing is immediately clear from a glance at an overview: regulations are particularly harsh in the Bible Belt of the South, where churches have enormous influence.
For the year 2020, these are the latest available figures, the Guttmacher Institute had registered around 930,000 legal abortions in the country. Hundreds of thousands of women may have to see where they are every year. Or rather: where they are going. Depending on where they live, women have to travel thousands of kilometers. If they can afford it. Abortion bans particularly affect low-income sections of the population. The proportion of non-white women is higher there. Atlanta has been growing for many years, many suburbs are dominated by blacks.
When it became clear that the Supreme Court would overturn general abortion laws, the Feminist Center was overrun with women from across the country. The doctors carried out up to 70 abortions daily. But even in Georgia there was a strict limit of a maximum of six weeks for months. Many women do not even know that they are pregnant. Up to 30 patients can be treated surgically or with pills per treatment day for a maximum of $575, or less depending on income. At the beginning of the week, a judge then suspended the ban: the law was passed in 2019 when the law was still in force and was therefore unconstitutional. The Feminist Center had sued along with other organizations. Georgia's government has already filed its appeal.
The limits were tough for months: If the clinic found a heartbeat during the preliminary examination, the doctors had to send the women away again according to the law. They could then try their luck in another state, such as neighboring South Carolina, where the rules were less strict. For example, for women from Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi, where the regulations are even stricter, Georgia was the closest state where at least one pregnancy could be terminated after rape, incest or the mother's life was at risk.
In July, the Conservatives enthusiastically applauded their historic, long-planned success. In the midterm elections last week, he proved to be a boomerang. The elections for Congress and many state offices became a test of mood for the future of women's rights.
After the 31 percent of voters who saw inflation and the economy as crucial, 27 percent named abortions; the issue electrified the electorate and drove them to the polls for the Democrats. Nationally, 72 percent of women between the ages of 18 and 29 put their cross with the Democrats. Three out of four people who named abortion as the most important issue in post-election polls ticked a candidate from the ruling party. Five states have voted on abortion laws. In all, proponents won, even in the deeply conservative states of Kentucky and Montana.
The sky is gray in historic downtown Atlanta, a fifteen-minute drive from the clinic. Rain showers plague the hundred or so people waiting around a lectern. Under the spire of the nearby stone church, large letters proclaim "Jesus Saves". A few minutes later a black SUV with tinted windows pulls up, Pastor Warnock gets out, stands under the stylized wall portrait of black civil rights activist John Lewis and listens to the short praises of the two previous speakers with a smile.
Then the senator issues the slogan for the next few weeks: "This election is not a political process, it's about competence and character." Warnock will repeat this pair of words several times, both of which he denies to his competitor. Walker is best known in Georgia as an ex-football star endorsed by Donald Trump. He repeatedly threatened his ex-wife with death, and two other women accuse him of having forced them to have abortions. The former athlete also suffered from dissociative identity disorder in the past. Warnock speaks for about 15 minutes, becoming a motivational speech for his supporters and himself. "Are you ready to fight?" he asks, earning a collective yes.
Downtown Atlanta is a concrete jungle of hotels and office buildings criss-crossed by freeways and is a major national business hub. At the same time, the importance of the city for the self-image of black Americans is enormous. The civil rights movement of the 1960s was also formed in the neighboring historical part. Martin Luther King preached in the Ebenezer Church, his statue stands in front of the State Capitol, opposite is the "Freedom Park". Warnock has been the pastor of the church since 2005. You can even follow his sermons online. Sometimes his roles are mixed up, he speaks politically from the podium and, as a politician, mentions the Bible.
For the first time ever, two blacks are going head-to-head in Georgia's Senate election. Of the state's population, 33 percent identify themselves as black. A few weeks ago, the influential preacher Jamal Bryant broke with the tradition of their religious leaders to remain neutral in elections. He described Walker as a white man's puppet at a sermon. "He's been doing what they tell him to do since he was 16." Walker was still playing football for Georgia State University in Atlanta. Republicans were trying to fool blacks, Bryant warned: "They thought we were so stupid that we would choose the worst caricature of a stereotypical broken black man over someone who is educated, well read and focused." Footage of the sermon went viral.
Should Warnock win, the Democrats would be more independent of their own senators like Joe Manchin with a factional majority of 51 to 49. Most recently, he had single-handedly blocked the historic climate package because of the coal industry in his state of West Virginia for months - and thus drove large parts of the party to despair. It is a declared goal of Biden and the Democrats to legally guarantee abortion rights nationwide. The hurdles in Congress are high. But one more secure Senate vote can't hurt.
Even now, abortion advocates know that without support from Washington D.C. to help. For example, on one website there is a nationwide directory of clinics based on the length of pregnancy, on another there is an overview map of the entire United States with all legal regulations or abortion pill delivery services. A large number of organizations offer their support to women. Co-financed by an anonymous US donor, an underground aid network has been established which, among other things, smuggles pills from Mexico across the border to the north. Once in the United States, women disguisedly send the medicine to desperate pregnant women who are at a loss because of the strict laws.
Georgia law stipulated that the fetus in the womb already had personality rights as soon as the heartbeat could be heard and therefore could not be aborted. Several districts chose to police potential violations by private individuals, citing mothers' human rights. The civil rights organizations also argued in their lawsuit that the interference violated their privacy, which in turn is enshrined in Georgia's constitution. The judge left the decision open as to which weighs more.
The weekend before the court ruling, a car slowly drives up the sloping parking lot of the Feminist Center. Actually, the security guards would direct the incoming patient towards the entrance at the back of the building. But as the driver rolls down the window, a patient from Tennessee in the back seat begs in Spanish for immediate treatment. She gets out, the taxi drives away. But June Talita can do nothing for her, apart from giving her contact details: "You need an appointment, according to the law you have to wait at least 24 hours." With a desperate look, the woman runs down to the driveway.
It is now early afternoon and Jason Cantrell cannot receive the woman. Instead, on the lawn across the street, two members of the Christian organization 40 Days for Life are kneeling and praying with a flower between their hands. According to the organization's self-description, this should help with the closure of such clinics. At 1:13 p.m., the two men get up, collect the small white cross in front of them, as well as the signs stuck in the grass. "We care, we can help" is written on it. They pack everything in their trunk and drive off.
In the past few years, there have been violent attacks between patients, relatives and opponents of abortion. Eventually, June Talito had enough. In the land register, she looked closely at where the clinic's grounds stretched to, bought traffic cones and yellow paint, which she used to draw a wide line across the driveway. Opponents of abortion are not allowed to cross the line onto private property. You can only yell in the direction of the clinic building. But there, says June Talito with a grin, there is a lounge with a television. "I say to everyone: Don't let yourself be provoked, remember why you are here. And turn the TV up loud."