Reporter Becca Andrews’s book about the erosion of abortion rights was supposed to come out in January 2023, the 50th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. But in May, Andrews got a call from her editor: A draft of a Supreme Court opinion had been leaked showing that Roe was about to be overturned, and Andrews needed to get the book done ASAP. The result is a book that reads like the final days of legal abortion captured in amber. In the pages of No Choice, a patient awaits her abortion at a clinic in Tuscaloosa, Ala.; clinic defenders talk back to anti-abortion protesters outside the last clinic in Mississippi; a Tennessee abortion provider considers whether he will one day have to move to continue his life’s work. In all those states, legal abortion is now gone. “I saw the last of something,” Andrews told me. “I don’t really know how to wrap my head around that yet.” But No Choice looks ahead, too, at how the abortion rights movement must change in order to win access for all—and how activists on the ground are already doing this necessary work.
Amy Littlefield: In the introduction, you write that you were raised in a tiny evangelical Methodist church in a West Tennessee farming community and that, for 23 years, you were vehemently anti-abortion. What did you hear about abortion growing up?
Becca Andrews: It just felt like such an unquestionable evil at that time. When you see abortion as murder, that feels pretty black-and-white. So it’s funny being a reporter now who covers abortion; people will come up to me and just tell me their abortion stories. It is the honor and the privilege of my life to be able to hear those stories. It’s also interesting that lots of people from my hometown have had abortions. Just because it’s not talked about doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened. I’ve always been very adamant, as a reporter from the South, that no one fits into the binaries that we think they fit into. There are lots of people who work in abortion care who are people of faith. I’ve had conversations with people who identify as conservative but also are like, “The government should not have a say in what I do with my body.” People aren’t just one thing. That does often leave more space for conversation.
AL: You interview a Black woman named Tamika while she’s seeking an abortion in Tuscaloosa. She wants a baby but isn’t economically stable, and she has fibroids that went misdiagnosed for so long that she’s afraid she might not be able to get pregnant again.
BA: She is one of those people I’m going to think about for the rest of my life. In the room, I could feel how much she wanted that baby. It felt really important to me to get into the ways that Black women are often gaslit by the medical industry and ignored. This is something that has happened forever. It hasn’t changed. It’s not OK. It’s a human rights violation. It’s abject racism. We have to do something.
AL: A story from the book that challenged me was Dani’s story. Dani goes to an abortion clinic in Huntsville, Ala., that’s overwhelmed with patients from other states. She’s treated brusquely and ends up self-managing her abortion instead.
BA: People’s stories matter most to me, maybe even especially when they’re messy. That story challenged me, too. I felt bad about putting that stuff on the page, even though that’s what she experienced. I also really wanted to get at the cost of burdening clinics so much to where they can’t provide the kind of care that they should. I think that if we don’t have these conversations about where things are complicated and don’t fit into this neat little package, then people like Dani are going to be left behind.
AL: So much of what you captured in this book is now gone. How does that feel?
BA: Roe fell on a Friday. The following Monday I was at a clinic in Montgomery, Ala., and watched two or three people drive up and ask for care and be turned away. I will never forget the looks on those women’s faces when they were told, “There’s nothing we can do. We can’t even give you a recommendation for a place to go, because the law’s so unclear right now.” I talked to people who had just lost their jobs. There’s no preparing for your life’s work to be completely ripped away from you like that. I would love to say that I have been this strong journalist who it hasn’t affected. But man, I’ve been a mess.