MONTGOMERY, Ala. — The phones began ringing at the clinic not long after the Alabama governor signed a bill that would ban nearly all abortions in the state, including in cases of rape and incest.
The desperate women calling the POWER House, home of Montgomery’s only abortion clinic, all wanted to know the same thing.
“They’re asking: ‘Can we still come in? Are you still open?’” said volunteer Bianca Cameron-Schwiesow. “They’re in a panic and they’re scared. And we say that is fine, you can still come in, because they don’t realize that this is going to stay open for the next six months.”
If not longer. The law is supposed to go into effect in six months, but likely legal challenges from the American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood mean it could be years before the controversial Alabama law is enforced, experts have said.
“They are still terrified though,” said Margot Heartline, who also volunteers at POWER (People Organizing for Women’s Empowerment and Rights). They fear “they’re going to be thrown in jail if they go to a clinic.”
Cameron-Schwiesow said the message they want to get across is that women seeking abortions still have a safe place to go and so do the doctors who serve them.
“We are here for the patients, to protect them,” she said. “We try to cover them as much as we can. We are there to comfort and make sure they feel safe and secure, and we’re also here for the doctors to make sure they are safe as well, too.”
The Yellowhammer Fund, an organization that helps women seeking abortions get to one of the three clinics still operating in Alabama, also got the word out that Gov. Kay Ivey’s signature on the controversial bill did not end the procedure in the state.
“YOU CAN STILL GET AN ABORTION IN ALABAMA!” the group Tweeted.
Amanda Reyes, who is president and executive director of the group, said she spent part of the day re-recording its answering machine message to reassure callers they are still in business.
"This panic started when this bill was first introduced, actually," Reyes said. "At least one day a week the phones were ringing off the hook. So today I went in and changed the message to say abortion is still legal in Alabama for the next six months."
Reyes, whose organization helped fund over 300 abortions last year and 90 so far this year, said that if lawmakers thought the signing of this law would cut off donations they were greatly mistaken. She said they've seen an outpouring of support since Ivey signed the bill.
Alabama legislators passed the bill after denying an amendment that would have made exemptions in cases of rape or incest.
The bill’s sponsor, House Rep. Terri Collins, R-Ala., told NBC News on Tuesday that legislators wanted to keep the language streamlined specifically to address the language in Roe v. Wade, and hopefully revisit the question on whether a fetus in the womb can be considered a person.
Montgomery is the capital of one of the nation’s most conservative states. And on the street, some women interviewed by NBC News said they were not put off by the fact that the exceptions for rape or incest were not included in the bill.
“I am very excited that this bill has passed,” Lori Colley said. “It recognizes that in the womb is a person, and this bill protects the personhood of that child. I think it was important to not allow incest or rape as an exception because we know that that is a child.”
Brianca Jones said she mostly approved of the bill, but thinks abortions in the case of rape or incest should be allowed.
“A lot of people make bad choices or it just may be wrong timing, but I don’t think you should give up a gift such as a baby,” she said. “I would not get an abortion unless it's incest or rape.”
Kathy Vincent, however, said she was adamantly opposed to this law.
“I’m horrified that it passed and I’m concerned about what it does for the image of the state of Alabama,” Vincent said. “It was blatantly an attempt to get the Supreme Court to overturn Roe V. Wade, which would be a travesty in the country.”
“In their hearts, there are a lot of women who know that this is a very backwards step for women’s rights,” she added.
Vincent's husband, Paul, said the legal fight over this law is going to cost Alabama a bundle.
“We’re going to violate the Constitution, and the taxpayers end up paying for it,” he said.
Ramos reported from Montgomery, and Siemaszko from New York City.