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We Spoke With a Rape Survivor About Alabama’s New Abortion Ban: "There Are No Words"

"If I wasn’t able to have an abortion, that would be the end of my life."

by Carter Sherman
May 18 2019, 2:39pm

When Sam Blakely first heard about Alabama’s plan to ban almost all abortions in the state, she was driving. She pulled over and cried.

Two years ago, Blakely says, she was raped. And when she realized she was pregnant, she knew immediately what she had to do.

“If I wasn’t able to have an abortion, that would be the end of my life,” said Blakely, who’s now 25 and working as a travel specialist in Birmingham, Alabama. “There’s no way I could carry my rapist’s child.”

But under Alabama’s new law, Blakely wouldn’t have been able to get an abortion. The law, which has yet to go into effect, outlaws all abortion except for pregnancies that pose a “serious health risk” to the mother — with no exceptions for rape or incest. By passing the law, its backers hope to trigger a court challenge that can overturn Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion nationwide.

Blakely testified against the bill during an Alabama legislative committee hearing. She was also in the Senate gallery Tuesday night, when 25 white, male, Republican lawmakers ultimately passed it.

Blakely spoke with VICE News about her experience at the Capitol, her abortion, and her fears for the future.

Editor’s note: The following conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

When you realized you were pregnant, did you know much about abortion in Alabama?

I had no idea. Alabama does not teach sexual education in-depth, to anybody.

I was Googling things. I was looking at these pills you could take, this tea you could order from China. I had no idea. The only way that Planned Parenthood was able to save my life was because my best friend got her birth control through Planned Parenthood, and I remember her talking about going somewhere in Montgomery to get it. So I pieced the pieces together through her, and her story.

I didn’t know, first of all, if they even did abortions in this state. Second of all, if it was gonna be $50, $500, or $5,000. I literally had no idea.

Were those logistical hurdles difficult to manage?

Yes, they were. I was working, I had just graduated college a little while prior. How do you tell your boss, “Hey, I need time off for this?”

I had no idea that there were time limits or anything. I didn’t know any of that. And I learned that, unfortunately.

Why did you decide to go to the Capitol to testify against this ban?

I knew what this meant for women of Alabama and possibly women in this nation. I had to go and tell them why this was a terrible idea and to think about the people who would be affected by this, if it were to pass.

When you were at the hearing and in the Senate gallery, what did you think of the reaction from legislators? Did you feel like they listened to you?

The Democratic senators, absolutely. They’re fighting for us: Sen. [Bobby] Singleton, Sen. [Linda] Coleman-Madison, Sen. [Rodger] Smitherman.

But it’s the Republican side, the ones who voted for the bill to pass — literally, I looked into one of the senators’ eyes, when Sen. Singleton asked me and a couple other women to stand and think about what this means for women who are victims of rape who become pregnant and seek abortion as their only option. And [the Republican senator] looked at me, in my eyes, and then he looked down. And later they voted.

So I felt very unheard. I felt unimportant.

When the law passed, what went through your head?

Disgust, and shock, and awe. I remember it was very hard to process what had happened because I could not believe that these senators actually did this. They actually passed this bill, for whatever political game or agenda they have.

There’s no words to really describe how I felt in that moment.

What did you do afterward?

I prepared. I prepared to comfort. I prepared to keep the conversation going. I prepared to fight.

How did you feel when Gov. Kay Ivey signed the bill?

It was very shocking. Coming from 25 men who don’t really understand the female body, maybe, okay, they don’t get it, or they don’t want to get it. But Gov. Ivey, as a woman, you turned your back on Alabaman women. There are no words to describe the sense of betrayal that I felt when I heard that she had signed the bill.

Are you worried about this happening in other states?

Yes. I am worried that other states will become encouraged, if you will, to make these unconstitutional strikes at our reproductive rights. I believe that this is just fuelling a big fire. I’m shocked and terrified at how far this has gotten already.

I still have hope, but I’m also looking at where we are now, and it’s scary.

What’s next? What’s next? A ban on birth control? What’s next?

Since the ban passed, have you heard from other survivors of sexual assault?

I have been approached. I had a woman the other day, and she told me in kind of a hushed manner — she was just saying, “Thank you for telling your story and telling your truth, because I have a very similar story. And these men, they don’t understand what it’s like. They don’t get it, and they never will.”

They’re just scared. They’re worried about the future. Because they also know that this means detrimental things to so many, so many in this state, and possibly the nation.

What do you think of the international reaction, over the last few days?

Even though there’s a lot of bad things happening in Alabama right now, I just want to say thank you to all of the women, and men, and everybody who has come to our aid, to support people, [people] who have donated, people who have sent messages. That means a whole lot. And we need it. So bad.

And what would you say to other sexual assault survivors, in Alabama, who may want abortions now?

I would say to them that it’s okay to be scared, and it’s okay to be confused because that’s exactly what people wanted [in] passing this bill. Abortion is still legal, right now. Nothing has changed in the law yet. We are just preparing for the next steps.

You are supported, and you will be taken care of. So have hope. Have compassion. Have love. Keep your head up.

Cover image: The shoes of clients waiting to be seen at the Alabama Women's Wellness Center Friday, May 17, 2019 in Huntsville, Ala. (AP Photo/Eric Schultz)